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Get into Heritage at Wakehurst Place

Get into Heritage (GiH) was a partnership between Wakehurst Place, the National Trust at Birling Gap, and Weald and Downland Living Museum. The project aimed to increase access for people with learning disabilities to heritage sites through developing creative strategies to help people connect with each site.

Activity was led by artist, Anne Colvin, with staff from each of the partner organisations. It forms part of our Arts Connect programme for learning disabled adults.


  • To open up heritage sites to people with learning disabilities and their carers, building confidence and enthusiasm to support future visits
  • To build skills with staff and volunteers at each site to support ongoing relationships and provision for learning disabled adults
  • To share the learning from the project through resources, dissemination at events targeted at the heritage and social care sector

Who was involved?

  • Artist: Anne Colvin
  • Staff and volunteers at Wakehurst
  • Culture Shift staff
  • Groups and individuals local to each site

What happened?

The programme ran over 5 weeks in November, with 13 participants, ranging age from 20 to 60, largely drawn from a day centre and a residential home close by.

Sessions were led by a creative practitioner Anne Colvin, working closely with Wakehurst teacher Lorna Dimmock, and Education Coordinator Sarah Bell. Each session involved exploring different aspects of Wakehurst and using creative activities to observe and record.

The group took several walks in the gardens, photographing trees. In the water gardens, they discussed the importance of water for plants. In the walled garden, they looked at the layout and the structures of the archways and the planting. Back inside they carried out several creative activities, for example making prints with dried leaves, or taking rubbings from ornate surfaces in the Mansion House.

At the Millennium Seedbank, the group learned about the work of scientists in seed preservation.

Each member of the group collated their creative work from the 5 week course into a scrap book to take home – a wonderful souvenir of their time at Wakehurst.

Culture Shift, in partnership with Wakehurst and Anne Colvin, have produced a set of resources for use by groups of learning disabled visitors and their carers.

These are available to download here:

How to use Get into Heritage resources Wakehurst

Wakehurst Get into Heritage resources

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Reflections on the project

There was an enthusiasm around the visits, the organisation committed to it as a whole, big smiles from staff that weren’t involved.  It was motivational, people wanted to be involved more.

Staff, Wakehurst

[We valued] getting to know the group. We learnt a lot through working with them over a longer period. We have SEN groups here but just for 1 day. Our focus is making sure they get from ‘a to b’. Over weeks you can develop relationships, understand more about each person.

Staff, Wakehurst

I hope that this project will help convince managers at Wakehurst that we should be working with more groups like this as it’s evident that the participants and all staff/volunteers from Wakehurst saw the benefits.

Staff, Wakehurst

It was great to watch our group being creative, going out of their comfort zone and trying out new things.

Group leader, Hookstead

Very well organised group. Lots of interesting things to do, appropriate to the participants’ abilities, the enthusiasm of staff was infectious.

Group leader, Saxon Court

M made the lotus out of clay, there was a real depth of engagement, she wouldn’t have got there without the different starting points.


We enjoyed meeting new people and seeing what they were doing. We liked making new friends.


This work has been shared at two Get Connected events in Chichester and Haywards Heath and with the Sussex and Surrey Museum Learning Network.

Get into Heritage was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.