Q&A: Ed and Sarah Rogers, Riverhill Gardens

Restoration: Riverhill Gardens

Channel 4’s Country House Rescue, for me, is all about the best of British: our long-standing architectural heritage preserved and sympathetically modernised for future generations to enjoy.

Collectively, these programmes symbolise the conservation of a heritage that lies at the heart of Britain, anchoring it as a place of unique historical distinction, allowing for progress whilst maintaining a sense of identity.

Author Bill Bryson once wrote: ‘The biggest attraction in Britain is Britain – the whole package. Our heritage is not just a collection of ornaments scattered across the country, it is Britain itself and makes us gloriously distinguishable from any other country.’

Each week, Country House Rescue gives the viewer a snapshot of one such ‘ornament’ that, in its own individual way, makes Britain, well, Britain.

Last week’s episode of the programme was a revisit to the house Riverhill Gardens, a stunning property happily located in the heart of a Himalayan garden in Kent.

Owned by the family for two centuries, I was particularly struck by the enthusiasm of owners Ed and Sarah Rogers when listening to presenter Ruth Watson’s advice on maintaining the house and grounds, which ultimately meant major changes in way of life for the four generations living on the estate.

It was this enthusiasm and acceptance of change that prompted me to message the couple via Twitter, to find out more about their experience by way of a Q&A.

Below are the responses:

How did your being on Channel 4’s Country House Rescue come about?

The ‘Betty’ production team approached us in March 2009 to ask whether we would be interested. It came at a good time for us as we urgently needed more income to maintain and restore the house & gardens. They then filmed us over eight days during 2009. The first programme aired, March 2010, after which they filmed Re-visited in October 2010. Revisited aired last week.

With the additional facets Ruth Watson’s advice has conceived at Riverhill, what new challenges have you had to deal with in terms of running the estate?

The challenge of being open to the public more often. Prior to ‘re-launch’ the gardens were only open one day a week for three months of the year. We are now open five days a week, six months of the year and there is demand for us to be open in the Autumn!

Balancing family home & family life (there are four generations at Riverhill), while opening to visitors. Ed and I both have ‘full time’ other jobs (Ed works in London, I have 4 children to look after)

Several strands to the business – cafe, shop, garden opening, events, weddings, marketing – not to mention staff and volunteers – a steep learning curve!

When considering what changes to make, how do you decide on a cut-off point so as not to compromise the integrity of the house and gardens, and, indeed, the efforts of your ancestors?

Clear policy of only doing things at Riverhill which we ourselves like as a family. First and foremost this is a family garden (not a tourist attraction). We are just lucky that so many people love it as much as we do. Den building trail and adventure playground outside of the gardens. House only open to pre-booked groups of 20+.

You’re up and running on Twitter now. How do you plan on using digital media to help raise awareness of Riverhill Gardens?

We are very new to Twitter, but we are already seeing its value. We plan to use Facebook and Twitter to talk to new and existing customers about future events, progress of renovations, what’s looking good in the gardens, what is happening now at Riverhill etc. We have also found new contacts that we can share experiences with, and each learn from, and potential new suppliers to our café/shop such as a specialist tea company. We feel our use of digital media will evolve, as we become more experienced in using it.

Going forward, it was suggested on the programme that some additional activities were to be added to those already on offer. Can you outline some of the new plans that visitors might expect next season when visiting?

Since the revisited programme, which was filmed in October 2010, we have already:

Expanded Adventure playground & added ‘Yeti Burrow’
Re-built Southern Kitchen Garden Wall
Expanded range of ‘Family Fun’ activities – to include Rock UK activities.

Ready for 2012, we plan to:

Restore & replant Rose Walk
Start work on landscaping & replanting walled garden
Introduce range of Adult activities & events (e.g Botanical Art classes, photography treks, pilates & lattes)

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