WHP Director Ben Pearce

5 weeks ago I was delighted to begin work as West Horsley Place’s new Director.   It has been an extremely busy and exciting first month.  I arrived on an unseasonal and roasting hot Monday and since, even in the short time I have been with the Trust, it has flown from late Summer to rainy Autumn and I have watched the garden and beautiful landscapes that surround the Manor House quickly shift in colour.

Before I say more I would like to thank my predecessor Peter Pearce for all that has been achieved so far, as well as our thorough handover. I will remain indebted to Peter’s advice and expertise going forward.

 As the baton passed between Pearces, one of my first challenges was to convince everyone that I am not Peter's long lost nephew, and the surname duplication is pure coincidence! I have come armed with my own different and relevant experience, which I hope I can use to good effect to bring things together, make new things happen and drive the potential of this wonderful place forward!

To tell you a little more about me, I previously ran Paintings in Hospitals, a national arts-in-health charity, where from 2014, I had worked with the team, arts partners and the NHS to create many different visual arts projects, in unexpected places from A&E wards through to care homes.  Before joining ‘PiH’, I was Project Director for the Royal Academy of Arts (RA), developing and leading their National Lottery Heritage Funded Reveal, Celebrate, Explore programme which was the first stage of the RA250 redevelopment.  Today I am also on the Boards of other charities including the Culture Health & Wellbeing Alliance, and the Group for Education in Museums (GEM) – all of which I hope gives me the quite unique blend of skills needed for this role.

It is a strange time starting a new role in the middle of a Pandemic. We are fortunate at West Horsley Place to have the space to socially distance and (weather permitting) the gardens, estate and fresh air to work within.  We have been regrouping after furlough leave, which has been an unprecedented and unexpected challenge for us and indeed most other charities, and has affected or delayed a number of plans we had in place for this year, including the cancellation of the Craft in Focus Christmas Craft Fair. 

As we enter another uncertain period nationally, with Government advice changing weekly, we have at least been able to carry on progressing with projects already underway before I joined. The conservation works at Place Farm Barn are nearly there (with project completion now expected by the end of November).  At the House, the sash window repair and redecoration works are concluding whilst inside a film shoot which has temporarily transformed rooms in the house with its sets is just finishing. In terms of our own transformations, it is amazing the difference the window repairs led by RJ Smith have made, safeguarding the timbers and historic glazing whilst maintaining the unique look of the front façade.

I want to thank the Team, Board, our neighbours, Councillors, and all of the local people I have managed to meet so far for all making me feel so welcome.  We are all grateful for your help and support.  I am now looking forward to getting out and meeting many more of you in the weeks and months to come.