Sulgrave Manor is, according to its visitors' book, 'a hidden gem', 'best visit we've ever had', 'a reminder of how much I love history', 'cool', 'awesome'. 20,000 visitors a year take away overwhelmingly positive memories of this unique site. Despite striving hard to earn its living constantly since it opened in 1921, continually adding to its portfolio of activities, it is now in desperate need of help if it is to survive.
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The Sulgrave Manor Board would be grateful for help in its endeavours to retain for future generations a unique house by contributions to its core costs. Our heating, lighting, rates and insurance annual bill is ¬£38,000 and routine maintenance and security a further ¬£20,000. The National Trust recently stated that four out of five of its houses could not cover their own costs. Without any large organisational backing, our situation is even more difficult. Even our best efforts to earn money fail to cover the overheads totally and any help would be most welcome. While there are many 16th/17th century manor houses in the UK worthy of support, Sulgrave Manor has two especial claims to fame. The house was built by Lawrence Washington, the five times great-grandfather of the first US President and lived in by four generations of the family. Its unique transatlantic resonance was further developed by being purchased in 1914 by the British Peace Centenary Appeal to be an eternal symbol of Anglo-American friendship. It is held in trust for the peoples of the United Kingdom and the United States and receives no governmental funding at all. In the last few years, as Sulgrave Manor moves towards its own centenary, additional attractions for families and young visitors have been provided; new parts of the garden have been developed; an annual programme of new exhibitions has been added; an outreach programme has been established; the historic house has been reroofed; conservation practices have been improved and new buildings (erected to expand the schools work, with the help of the Heritage Lottery Fund and the Garfield Weston Foundation, amongst others) have been exploited also to provide a venue for weddings and additional facilities for visitors. A partnership has been established with The George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Virginia; John Washington, the emigrant, has been brought into more prominence on site; groups from the People to People Student Ambassador programme for American High Schools and US campuses in the UK are regular visitors; US holidays are routinely celebrated and the George Watson Chair of of American History, Literature and Institutions‚Äù, founded in 1919, has been reinstated. Each of the programmes of activities makes a contribution to the core costs of the Manor ‚Äì but, most years, not enough to cover them totally. Nor enough to fund the crucial conservation and development work upon which the ongoing prosperity of the Manor depends. Essential projects, from the mundane to the exciting ‚Äì repairs to the potentially dangerous carpark, the expansion of our education work ‚Äì are repeatedly ‚Äúput on hold‚Äù. A small and dedicated staff work hard to make elbow grease, ingenuity and passion substitute for adequate resources with a degree of success that astounds in some areas and disappoints in others. The trustees and National Society of Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA), our continuing supporters since the 1920s, struggle for donations in an increasingly competitive arena. The core work of the House continues, in pursuit of its recently revamped Mission statement : To embody the rich network of links between the peoples of the United States and United Kingdom and to make it meaningful for all visitors To share with visitors of all ages the heritage and history embodied in the house and the estate so that they leave determined to find out more To preserve and develop the estate for future generations. The guided tours regularly receive high praise from both the independent visitor and the booked groups, with the number of the latter having doubled in the last four years. In the last two years we have won four Renaissance Heritage Northamptonshire Awards including both ‚ÄòPeople‚Äôs Choice‚Äô, based on public voting. We are hoping to receive accreditation as a museum in the next few weeks. Our visitors come from all over the UK and from abroad. 11,000 school children visit us each year on a special programme geared closely to the National Curriculum. A measure of its success is the number of young visitors in their teens or twenties who comment ‚ÄúI remember coming here with the school‚Äù and the number of families who visit because their child wanted to come back. Every day brings more ideas, more possibilities and more enthusiastic visitors. But not, unfortunately, enough money.
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