Sissinghurst Gardens, Engagement Framework

Sensory Trust created an engagement framework for the Sissinghurst gardens in Kent. The National Trust, who manages the site, plans to open some of the surrounding farmland to visitors to the famous gardens and they sought advice from Sensory Trust on how to make the experience of the farmland complement the existing experience.

For the report we drew on our experience of working closely with the Eden Project and with organisations like the National Trust and English Heritage in sites across the UK. We based our approach on the Access Chain, an approach which we have developed in order to define the visitor experience from the visitor’s perspective.


Jane Stoneham discussing the visitor arrival experience with the National Trust team at Sissinghurst

Our recommendations took into account the National Trust's objectives for the Sissinghurst Castle Farm, namely that the project reconnects the farm with the gardens; the land is managed in a sustainable way; the farm produces food for the restaurant; and local farmers markets are held monthly.

There were some clear challenges in this project. The gardens were designed to create a world of their own, self-contained and largely hidden from the wider estate. Seeking to visually or physically make links with the surrounding farm from inside the gardens may have risked damaging the unique qualities of the gardens.

In a report to the National Trust, Sensory Trust made a series of recommendations covering pre-visit information, the arrival experience, the farm shop, the café, wayfinding, interpretation, planting schemes, physical infrastructure, and on-site activities.  All recommendations were made with a view to broadening the diversity of visitors and extending the visitor season.

The report outlined strategies for managing different visitor abilities for the increased size of the site, suggesting ways in which the site could be made more accessible and ways in which potential visitors could be informed of the new areas that they could visit.

The report also predicted some likely impacts on infrastructure as a consequence of the planned changes, for example the larger site will require longer visits and a resulting increase in the use of toilet and refreshment facilities.

Recommendations have subsequently fed into the development of the farm as an integral part of the Sissinghurst visit.


Community engagement - reconnecting marginalised people with their communities and places

Sensory engagement - how we use a sensory approach to connect people with nature and the outdoors

Inclusive design - making places and communities accessible for people of all ages and abilities

Outdoor access design factsheets - free guidance

Access Chain - a tool for reviewing access from the user's perspective

Accessible information design - why it matters and who it benefits

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