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The battle for the soul of the National Trust - a trilogy of articles for the Telegraph

For the uninitiated, a right royal battle has been raging over the current and future direction of the National Trust and reached its simmering climax at this year's AGM last Saturday (30th October).

We enclose twin articles on the background to and coverage of the AGM by Harry Mount and Haley Dixon, and a third article on behalf of 18-25 year olds by Alice Loxton with suggestions on how the Trust might appeal to a younger audience without compromising its core purpose and vision.

This latter has provoked a predictable back-lash amongst some, but, we believe, the outline proposals sound interesting and constructive and should be taken as a welcome contribution from the younger generation to the on-going debate on the future of the National Trust.


We begin though with Harry Mount's account of the political lines now being drawn between the Trust's current and former members:

"In one corner is the Trust’s governing body, hellbent on modernising the beloved institution for more than a decade. In the other stands a new group, Restore Trust, set up this summer to counter what they see as a catastrophic dumbing-down and politicisation of their beloved Trust. (I must confess I’m a member of Restore Trust.)

This isn’t a battle between two ideologies – left and right. It’s a fight between the National Trust, wanting to impose its intellectually weak, progressive ideology, and Restore Trust, which wants to strip the layers of propaganda from the Trust and return it to being an institution purely dedicated to preserving buildings and landscape."

The full article can be read here with links to the original beneath it:

Article by Harry Mount for the Telegraph - A country house divided - The battle for the so
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Our second article, by Haley Dixon, provides a follow-up with an account of the AGM itself:

During their AGM in Harrogate on Saturday, charity executives were forced to defend themselves against accusations that they had abandoned their purpose of protecting the nation’s heritage “for everyone, for ever”.

Members and former staff accused bosses of losing valuable curatorial experience and replacing it with “trite” displays in order to increase footfall and make money.

Volunteers also accused bosses of “taking them for granted and not listening to them” whilst one 25-year-old member said that they “did not care” about young people.

Despite the criticism, Hilary McGrady, director-general of the National Trust, hailed the way that her organisation had coped with the pandemic and the fact that they are gaining a new member every 23 seconds.

She told the audience of around 200 members, with many watching online, that she “welcomed” being held to account, including by Restore Trust, a campaign group that believes the charity has lost its focus on its purpose of looking after Britain’s heritage.

The charity opposed and won the vote against two of Restore Trust’s proposals, including one calling for volunteers to be consulted and engaged before making changes and decisions that impacted them.

A resolution put forward by Mrs Wood that members should “deplore” the loss of curatorial experience was also voted down.

It was defeated with 54,708 for and 57,164 against, more than 21,000 of which were proxy votes which had been handed to the chairman to use as she saw fit."

Fuller details of the meeting can be read here with a link to the original article beneath it:

Article by Haley Dixon for the Telegraph - National Trust accused of ‘arrogant abuse’ at h
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Finally we submit proposed changes to the way the National Trust operates on behalf of young people in this article by Alice Loxton. Designed to entice as well as to educate, this article has been posted as an addendum to an earlier piece we uploaded to our Education section on the controversy surrounding the Eastern Museum at Kedleston Hall - (see 'Lord Curzon, the National Trust and the Eastern Museum).

Alice freely admits:

"It’s not how most people my age spend their weekends. But for someone who loves and cares for history, the NT has been my lifeblood. It’s a cause I’ve championed for years. My bedroom wall pin-up? A map of National Trust properties. The gap year in Thailand? I was building paths in Cumbria on a NT working holiday. Some get their hits from cigarettes and alcohol. For me, it’s spotting that brown oak leaf sign in the hedges of an A-road. I thought, therefore, I had a duty to attend the AGM."

One of the main problems besetting the Trust is that it simply doesn't cater for the younger generation at all:

"While the Trust’s motto is “for everyone, forever”, as director-general Hilary McGrady pledged again on Saturday, it’s hard to believe this when there’s no engagement with 18-to-25-year-olds. None. And what’s worse, the Trust, with its huge budgets for PR, marketing, outreach and social media, has made no perceptible effort to change that. McGrady’s passion for #BlossomWatch was evident, but she failed to mention young adults once. Perhaps the campaign should be extended to #StudentWatch. Spot a student on site? Collect a hedgehog sticker. Spot a gaggle of this rare breed? A free slice of lemon drizzle.

Its whole style and approach could do with a make-over :

The elephant in the room – or the thistle on the chaise longue, in this case – is that the National Trust is relentlessly stuffy. Whatever the opposite of “edgy” is, it is that. Its stated objectives are to “find comfort” and make a “special relationship” with “beautiful spaces”. So vague; so weak; so bland. Perhaps this appeals to Baby Boomers and young families, but 18-to-25-year-olds aren’t swayed by on-site parking, baby-changing facilities or hearing loops. Young people, and those young at heart, have no time for being vanilla. We want a kick of ginger spice (or rum and raisin).

And yet beyond the boundary walls and wrought-iron gates is a young and enthusiastic audience longing to be invited in:

"Young people up and down the country are nerdily obsessed with history: they love it. A quick scroll through TikTok will tell you that: millions of “views” of someone dressed like a Tommy, or vintage trains pulling into stations, or the secrets of London’s streets. Those viewers are rich pickings for the Trust. So what about a year’s free membership when they graduate?

And what of all those student societies across Britain? The Trust could be providing the go-to venues for balls, dinners, speed-dating, days out – with a coach to and from campus as part of the package. London’s galleries and museums have been on the pulse here for years."

The full article can be read here with a link to the original beneath it:

Article for the Telegraph by Alice Loxton -The National Trust must start appealing to the
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Alice Loxton

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