The Association for Cultural Exchange (ACE) was conceived by Philip Brooke Barnes (1926-2009) and founded by him in 1958. He was inspired by his time spent in India with the army and later, as a Reuters foreign correspondent based in Copenhagen.

Philip developed two passionate and enduring convictions. The first was the importance of education in encouraging cultural relations and international understanding. The second was in the value of lifelong learning, without limits on access or age.


Charitable Purpose


The Association for Cultural Exchange is a registered charity in England and Wales. This requires us to have a charitable purpose and to deliver public benefit through our range of activities. Our charitable purpose is our commitment to cultural education. This is embedded in our governing documents:


“To advance the education of the people of the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the fields of general history, music, art, architecture and design, archaeology, literature, environmental studies and the theory of education.”


Early Years


Philip’s Danish-born wife Inger joined ACE in 1961. She helped to develop its pioneering role in adult and continuing education, providing summer schools and seminars held at Oxford and Cambridge colleges mainly aimed at citizens from outside the United Kingdom.


ACE Study Tour 1961

An early ACE study tour in 1961. Entitled “Celts, Saxons and Vikings” the course ran for three weeks. It was created for Scandinavian teachers as part of a course of professional development for adult education. Philip and Inger Barnes are shown, 3rd and 4th from left. 


The Development of Cultural Tours


It became evident during the 1960s that there was increasing demand for expert-led cultural tours both within Britain and abroad. As international travel became more accessible, study tours to European and worldwide destinations became the mainstay of the Charity. By 2010 cultural travel had become so significant that it was decided to locate this activity within a dedicated subsidiary company called ACE Cultural Tours Limited. Today ACE Cultural Tours provides expert led study tours to around 150 different destinations all over the world, learning about their culture and heritage. As envisaged by Philip Brooke Barnes, there is always an emphasis on tour participants sharing knowledge and exchanging ideas. 


As the wholly owned subsidiary of a charity, ACE Cultural Tours is unique in the travel sector. Its annual financial surpluses are gift-aided to its parent, The Association for Cultural Exchange. The Charity, in turn applies those funds to further its charitable purposes through its activities at Stapleford Granary and also by awarding bursaries and grants.


More details and the full range of departures are available here.


An ACE Cultural Tours group on tour

An ACE Cultural Tour in autumn 2023 aboard The Spirit of Chartwell, formerly the Royal Barge. The tour, led by port expert Martin Symington, explored the heritage, music, culture and cuisine of the River Douro in Portugal.


ACE Tour Directors

Chosen not only for their specialist knowledge, but equally for the clarity and enthusiasm with which they communicate and impart their passion to others, ACE Cultural Tours Tour Directors are personally involved in the creation and planning of our tours. Several of our tours, particularly our river cruises, combine the expertise of multiple Tour Directors, whose specialisms across distinct subject areas combine to create a unique amalgamation of perspectives.


Click below to read a guest blog post exploring Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este at Tivoli by ACE Tour Director Lucrezia Walker.


A Garden of Delights - Hadrian’s Villa and the Villa d’Este at Tivoli


An ACE Cultural Tours group on tour

The Villa d'Este, Tivoli


Somerset Levels in Winter with Peter Exley


Tour Director Peter Exley introduces our winter tour of the Somerset levels, England’s largest wetland. Highlights will include the wildlife now returning in dramatic numbers – from the millions-strong murmuration of roosting starlings, to the growing flock of cranes recently reintroduced after a 400-year absence.



The Development of Stapleford Granary


In 2009 the Charity acquired derelict Victorian farm buildings in the village of Stapleford, 4 miles south of the centre of Cambridge. This purchase was specifically with a vision to create a permanent base for the Charity to expand its activities across the field of cultural education and delivery of public benefit. These wonderful buildings have been sympathetically renovated to create the arts centre now known as Stapleford Granary. We have a 100-seat concert hall in which to enjoy intimate performances of classical music, jazz and folk by musicians from around the world and to discover lesser-known composers. During the summer, our courtyard is transformed into an additional concert space by a magnificent stretch tent, allowing audiences to enjoy outdoor concerts and events. Our gallery spaces allow a wide range of art work to be exhibited, from fine art to glass, ceramics and sculpture. The stable block has been turned into working studios for creatives, some of whom also offer public courses. 


More details and our full programme of events are available here.


Stapleford Granary 2009

The Stapleford Granary site in 2009


Granary Renovations

Stapleford Granary during renovation in 2018


Stapleford Granary After

The Stapleford Granary site in 2019


Bursaries & Grants


Since its founding in 1958, the Charity has used surpluses generated to both develop new activities and to award grants and bursaries to support people, places and events associated with its objectives. To date, more than 250 such awards have been made. Initially grants were focused on student scholarships, teacher training and archaeological studies. As the range of study tours developed post 1970, grants criteria were extended to art, interpreted in its widest sense to include music and literature, design and conservation. From 2010 surplus funds have been used extensively to develop public benefit activities at Stapleford Granary. The trustees are now focused on broadening the remit of their grant-giving.


Making the Piano Sing: the music of Hélène de Montgeroult


Pianist Ian Buckle performs six études by Hélène de Montgeroult in a short film about this visionary 18th century composer, who resolutely believed in the possibility of ‘making the piano sing’.



Stapleford Granary 2009 © Trevor Barlow

Stapleford Granary 2019 © Calum Barlow