New talking bench at Petworth Park

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Petworth Park is to have its own ‘talking’ bench – one of eight National Trust properties to pioneer a new form of communication with their visitors.

People will be able to sit on the bench, which overlooks the park and its Serpentine Lake, don headphones and listen to the gentle tones of top political broadcaster John Sergeant, telling them about his love affair with Petworth and its treasures.

The National Trust has unveiled eight benches voiced by celebrities. Others on the list include Stephen Fry, comedian Miranda Hart and cricketer David Gower.

“These first ever talking benches are inspired by each of the celebrities and capture areas of natural beauty with their own personal audio odes and anecdotes,” the trust says.

John Sergeant, who has a second home at Bedham, near Fittleworth, is a frequent visitor to Petworth House and Park, often accompanied by his wife, grandchildren or friends.

The eight-minute audio reflects on how the charity enables everyone to have a share of the enjoyment of great houses and estates, and Sergeant also talks about the history and treasures of Petworth and how house and park together give him a sense of harmony.

He said: “I was delighted to be asked. It is such an interesting project, trying to convey all that you find exciting about a favourite National Trust property in a short talk.

“The danger is that your listeners may just get up from the bench and wander off. I hope I have done enough to keep them seated right to the end!”

The wooden works of art, called the Bench Mates, have taken over six months to produce. The National Trust was inspired by research that suggested just half of the country’s population take the time to appreciate the great outdoors and Britain’s natural beauty, and it hopes the initiative will encourage more to visit its properties.

Other Bench Mates are at the trust properties Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk (Stephen Fry), Cragside, Northumberland Miranda Hart), Quarry Mill Bank, Cheshire (presenter Claudia Winkleman), Castle Ward, County Down (Alain de Botton, philosopher and author), Cotehele, Cornwall (naturalist and broadcaster Nick Baker), Calke Abbey, Derbyshire (David Gower), and Dinefwr Park and Castle, Carmarthenshire (Iolo Williams, naturalist and broadcaster).

Tony Berry, the National Trust’s visitor experience director, said: “It has been a pleasure for us to immortalise our very own national treasures. Millions of people come to our places for physical and mental refreshment every year and these audio benches will provide the perfect spots to sit and enjoy what the trust has to offer.”