Catching up on various aspects of heritage organisations’ governance and corporate planning in advance of the 2020 annual reports publication season meant I was reading again through The National Trust’s 2019-20 annual report which was published just as the coronavirus pandemic forced the country into lockdown just over a year ago.
The 2019-2020 financial year had been the most successful ever for the Trust in terms of visitor numbers, membership recruitment and retention and fundraising. These successes also coincided with the Trust celebrating its 125th anniversary and the half way point through its 10 year strategy ‘Playing our Part’. As with all good corporate planning cycles, the midway point gave the Trust the opportunity to review progress and refine the strategy and it took the opportunity to relaunch it under the banner of ‘Nature, beauty and history. For everyone, for ever.’
The revised focus for the strategy has been all the more important given the year of lockdown which immediately followed the annual report publication – with aims for environmental enhancement, further broadening of the experience for visitors, and most potently “…addressing unequal access to nature, beauty and history by working with others to increase access to parks and green spaces in, around and near urban areas.”
The effect of the pandemic has been huge on the organisation as widely reported elsewhere, with anticipated effects already noted in the published annual report prior to the realisation of the year of turmoil from 2020 into 2021. The upcoming corporate reporting for 2020-21 will therefore prove fascinating reading not only for an overarching assessment by the organisation on how it has coped with pandemic’s huge effects on it as a charity and employer with major reliance on the tourism economy, but also how it feels it has corporately fared through the media storm of culture wars, the organisation’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement, and its role in addressing the identified social need for connection and access to greenspace, fresh air and a healthy natural environment.
The publication of an annual report, apart from being a statutory requirement for accounting and governance purposes, are the location where fact (accounts and KPIs) and narrative (report and review) combine in a regular annual cycle enabling the lifecycle and development of an organisation to be charted. They are a vital and fascinating part of the story in an organisation’s administrative history, and are always worth a closer inspection.
The CRT has recently published its latest heritage report. It provides an overview of the the state of conservation across the CRT’s canal network and associated land holdings, and illustrates current conservation and restoration projects. The range of work continues to be impressive, with the report reminding us that the CRT is the 3rd largest owner of protected heritage assets in the country (behind the Church of England and the National Trust). Having moved from being a public corporation (British Waterways) three years ago to an independent charity as the CRT, illustration of its conservation progress is a vital part of not only the stewardship compact with Government, but also the marketing communications around heritage conservation by the organisation designed to garner support in wider society for the organisation and the canal side environment as a place to actively rather than passively engage with. The dual fundamental challenge for the organisation is the stewardship of a dynamic physical environment which has to be managed safely and sensitively (canal breaches can be devastating!) and the fact that the vast majority of its asset base is free to access, as the majority of canal users are on the towpath as opposed to licence-paying boaters.
Notable in the report is the chart illustrating damage to the asset base, listing graffiti and vandalism as the major ongoing problem. This suggests that within urban settings, there is still a lot of progress to be made to encourage wider societal appreciation of the waterways as a community place and recreational asset that needs to be actively looked after.