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New audio-described guide brings Ickworth House to life for blind and visually impaired visitors

Ickworth Estate in Suffolk has launched a new audio-described guide for blind and visually impaired visitors.

Ickworth House is set within 1800 acres of rolling parkland and woods in the village of Horringer, just outside Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk. Originally commissioned in 1795 by the Earl-Bishop, Frederick Augustus Hervey – the 4th Earl of Bristol – the East and West Wings of the house were intended to display the significant art treasures he collected during 30 years of ‘grand tours’ around Italy. In 2021 a major £5 million conservation project to reroof the iconic Rotunda was completed, securing Ickworth’s future for generations to come.

Ickworth House

Ickworth House, nr Bury St Edmunds with its iconic Rotunda

The new guide, developed as part of Ickworth’s community partnerships with local charity Suffolk Sight and national arts access charity VocalEyes, gives detailed and evocative descriptions of the architecture, interiors, and some key items in the collection along with historical information.

The guide begins at the Welcome Point with an historical introduction before beginning the journey to the house with clear descriptions of the pleasure grounds and a dramatic reveal of the iconic Rotunda. Visitors then enter the house and can hear detailed descriptions of the ground floor rooms and a selection of treasures including paintings, silverware, and sculpture. The guide also provides detailed information on the route between rooms to support with orientation.

Suffolk Sight worked with the team at Ickworth, providing initial advice and guidance on how the House and collections could be made more accessible for people with visual impairment. The recordings and detailed descriptions were then produced by VocalEyes, a charity that specialises in bringing art and culture to life for blind and visually impaired people.

The new audio and visual guides at Ickworth House

Beth Brown, Collections and House Officer, National Trust said “It’s been a privilege to collaborate with Suffolk Sight and VocalEyes to create this offer for our visually impaired visitors. We’ve learnt so much from them both about what it’s like living with sight loss and how heritage sites and museums can support visually impaired people to access and enjoy their collections.

“The guide celebrates our beautiful house and collection by describing items and rooms in detail, allowing the visitor to build up a picture in their minds. We are so excited to be able to share this guide with our visually impaired visitors and hope to work with other community groups in the future to help ensure Ickworth is accessible to everyone.”

Members of Suffolk Sight trialling Ickworths new audio described tour (c) Jim Woolf

Sight loss affects more than two million people in the UK and this number is set to increase due to an ageing population and medical conditions such as diabetes. With less than 4% of individuals that are registered with sight loss being totally blind, it isn’t always obvious when a visitor has a visual impairment and the National Trust want to ensure the house and collection can be enjoyed by everyone.

Members of Suffolk Sight got to test the guide before launch, becoming the very first visitors to experience this new comprehensive guide of Ickworth’s ground floor. Kevin Ramsey, a member of Suffolk Sight who tried out the guide have been impressed “The audio description is well detailed, very clear and easy to understand your surroundings. The audio controllers are easy to use. Great staff to help out if you have any difficulties.”

The new audio-described guide is now available at Ickworth, and visitors can pre-book an audio-guide handset at no additional cost by calling 01284 736140. Two different headphone options are available with the handsets – over ear headphones or a single ear bud. Alternatively, you can bring your own 3.5mm headphones.