Ever since its far-sighted foundation, with the help of a radical lawyer experienced in saving common land from enclosure, over a hundred years ago, the National Trust has been acquiring buildings and land for the nation’s safe-keeping. Now they’re changing their strategy, however. ‘We do not need to own [more property in order] to influence’, says its director, Fiona Reynolds; the Trust already has
an astonishing collection of 37,000 buildings, 22 castles, 4,000 historic monuments, 57 villages, 200 great houses, and 263,045 hectares (650,000 acres) of land [which includes 700 miles of coastline].
Wishing to avoid becoming fossilised, however, the Trust is aiming to become a significant player in the nation’s politics – and probably beyond.
Up to now, the Trust has been a fairly
patrician organisation that deigned to allow the public into its properties to admire but not to touch.
However, it ‘is moving into
what it believes are more inclusive, egalitarian times, in which its members are encouraged to be part of the trust instead of being admiring spectators to its operations, and its charter “to be of benefit to the nation” is being redefined.
“There has been huge social change in society,” says director Fiona Reynolds. “The days when we could just open the gates and people would flood in have gone. Society is now much more challenging, questioning and curious. It wants a relationship with place, and organisations. […]”
And this is what’s interesting in their strategy redirection, namely, a more systemic understanding of the role of place.
With initiatives like the one at the Wallington Hall estate already underway, the mixture of socially-inclusive science, a massive membership base, and experience grounded in a mutlitude of places around the British Isles could be a potent force for good.
In the past, it has been possible to manage properties as islands. But we are totally influenced by what is going on around us. You can deal with the symptoms [of ecological issues], or take the much wider view and address the source of the problems. To do that you must work with others. It means looking at things on an eco-system and landscape scale. From having experience of how great houses work, we can now move on to how nature works. It’s about recognising that all aspects of the environment are interconnected.
So the Trust is recognising that it can become
a new breed of ecologically-rooted organisation that mixes the practical with the political and social, and which seeks to persuade.