Behind closed doors at Woodford Academy

Shut to visitors and volunteers for six months, a new resident has been stirring up dust behind closed doors at the oldest building in the Blue Mountains.

New property co-ordinator Annie Stevens has spent lockdown ensuring critical maintenance of colonial-era Woodford Academy and its historic National Trust-owned collection continued and developing an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the volunteer management committee.

The Mid-Mountains property was forced to close just days before its popular annual Harvest Festival in March because of the global coronavirus pandemic.

Fortuitously, the National Trust had appointed Ms Stevens to the role of the museum's first dedicated property co-ordinator just one month prior.

The property had been managed by volunteers since the National Trust opened it to the public in the 1990s.

Woodford Academy management committee chairperson Elizabeth Burgess said Ms Stevens' appointment by the National Trust was a significant step towards ensuring the sustainability of the multi award-winning museum.

"We were thrilled to welcome Annie to our dedicated team. At the time we had no idea what a tumultuous year 2020 was going to be and, in hindsight, Annie's appointment could not have been more timely."

A Blue Mountains resident for the past five years, Ms Stevens has 17 years' experience working in museums and heritage sites, including the lead curatorial role on the development of several exhibitions at the Museum of Sydney.

With a Bachelor of Arts (History) and a Master of Arts (Museum Studies), Ms Stevens has experience in conservation, maintenance and management of historic collections. This year she is also undertaking a Masters of Heritage Conservation at the School of Architecture, Design and Planning at Sydney University.

While Woodford Academy has been closed, Ms Stevens has ensured that critical maintenance of the museum and its historic collection continued and has developed an innovative curatorial plan in collaboration with the management committee.

"I am passionate about providing positive visitor experiences, crafting compelling stories and embracing new technologies to engage visitors with history in unique and meaningful ways," she said.

"Legibly curating and interpreting the complex multi-layered history of this important heritage site and its unique collection is an exciting challenge."

The four-stage curatorial plan will be incrementally implemented over the next year and include engaging local creatives and artists to produce new interpretive displays.

Several projects identified in the first stage have already begun with help from a National Trust Women's Committee donation, including custom-designed display units by Woodford-based furniture designer/maker Georgina Donovan and a replica of the Woodford Academy football cap by former artist-in-residence Christine's Millinery.

"The curatorial plan became our lockdown project while the museum was closed, but it was only possible because of Annie's expertise," Ms Burgess said.

"We see Annie's museum curation as a much-needed positive step, not only for this heritage property and the morale of our dedicated volunteers, but also for the wider Blue Mountains community as we recover from the devastating 2019-20 bushfires and the pandemic.

"We can't wait to share the improvements Annie has already implemented during the shutdown including revitalising existing displays, and new interpretative signage and new displays with the community when we re-open the museum."

The National Trust (NSW) re-opened a selection of its properties on July 3 including Norman Lindsay Gallery at Faulconbridge and Everglades Historic House and Gardens at Leura with revised terms and conditions of entry such as pre-booking timed entry tickets

Woodford Academy is expected to re-open in the next few months, pandemic permitting.

In the meantime, Ms Burgess invited people working from home and looking for extra workspace to consider a tenancy lease at Woodford Academy.