Heritage Tourism in 2021: The National Trust

Compiled by © David Gill

The visitor figures for the National Trust in 2021 are now available. The top 10 NT locations attracted 4.3 million visitors: the most popular was Attingham Park with 597,154 visitors, followed by Cliveden with 553,041. These same ten properties (except for Clumber Park where the information is not easily accessible) attracted 4.6 million visitors in 2019, and 3.2 million in 2020. The figures for 2021 are higher than those for 2018 (4.2 million).

Compiled by © David Gill

The top 20 National Trust properties attracted 7.2 million visits in 2021, up from 7.6 million for the same 20 in 2019.

Heritage Tourism in 2021: An Overview

Details of the impact that the pandemic has made on the heritage sector is becoming clear. Visitor figures for 2021 are now available. The top 10 properties in 2021 for the National Trust, National Trust for Scotland, English Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Historic Royal Palaces, and the Treasure Houses of England are collated here: 51 properties in all.

The National Trust has recovered best best with 4.3 million visits to its top 10 properties, down slightly from 4.6 million visits to the same 10 properties in 2019. In contrast Historic Royal Palaces attracted just over 1 million visitors in 2021, down from 4.5 million in 2019.

These 51 properties attracted 11.7 million visitors in 2021, compared to 21.8 million in 2019 (7.7 million in 2020).

Sutton Hoo: a new perspective

Sutton Hoo
Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The new viewing platform at Sutton Hoo provides wonderful views over the burial ground. The mound that contained the key ship-burial is closest to the platform, but it is now clear to the viewer that the mound is placed in a much wider funerary setting. The mounds take on new forms seen from this height.

From the other side of the platform it is possible to see the Deben and Woodbridge, giving a sense of the proximity of the burial-ground to the river.

The temporary tower had provided some new vistas of the mounds but this new platform places the visitor in one of the key locations.

Governance and corporate reporting in heritage: reflecting on The National Trust Annual Report 2019-20

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.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: an overview

© David Gill

The impact of lockdowns due to the pandemic is making itself clear on the visitor figures released by ALVA. Reduced visitor numbers will see a reduction in income from ticket sales as well as through retail outlets. We have yet to see the impact on those who pay annual memberships.

These figures use the numbers for the Top 10 properties for the National Trust (NT), the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), English Heritage (EH), and Historic Environment Scotland (HES). The number for Historic Royal Palaces (HRP) is based on three properties: the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, and Hampton Court.

The 44 properties represented in this histogram received over 20 million visitors in 2019; in 2020 it was just over 6 million. The Top 10 properties for HES dropped by nearly 4 million visitors.

Heritage Tourism in 2020: National Trust

Ordered by Top 10 sites in 2019 © David Gill, 2021

The ALVA visitor figure data has revealed the impact of the pandemic on the National Trust. Using the Top 10 sites in 2019, the fall has been from 5.4 million to 2.9 million in 2020.

Ordered by Top 10 sites in 2020 © David Gill, 2021

Using the Top 10 sites for 2020, the fall has been from 4.6 million in 2019 to 3.4 million in 2020.

Ordered by Top 20 Sites in 2019 © David Gill, 2021

To give a larger picture, using the Top 20 sites in 2019, the fall has been from 9.1 million to 5.3 million in 2020.

These figures suggest that parks and gardens have allowed the public to continue to engage with heritage through the pandemic.

The Sutton Hoo excavations and William Francis Grimes

Sutton Hoo © David Gill

The contribution of William Francis Grimes to the Sutton Hoo excavations can sometimes be overlooked. Grimes was born in Pembroke and was an undergraduate at Cardiff where he read Latin; he then joined the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff where he initially worked on Roman pottery from Holt. However, his main interest was in prehistory, and in 1938 he joined the archaeological section of the Ordnance Survey. His expertise in working on organic materials was thought suitable for the excavation at Sutton Hoo where his ‘work in dissecting and removing the majority of the buried deposits was invaluable’ (AntJ 1940).

For his life see ODNB. See also his guidebooks for prehistoric sites in Wales as well as his excavation of the Walbrook Mithraeum in London.

Sector knowledge: National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual

Journal Summary: The National Trust Historic Houses & Collections Annual brings together in-depth articles by leading specialists and curatorial experts. It also features shorter articles, such as high-profile interviews, highlights of recent loans and acquisitions, an exhibition diary and curator-profile pieces.
Published in association with Apollo magazine, the Annual provides illuminating insights into a wide range of research topics relating to collections objects, architecture, gardens, interior design and libraries, among many others.

Publisher: National Trust

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/art-and-collections-publications

Access: Open access

Journal Type: Organisational publication

Sector knowledge: National Trust Arts, Buildings & Collections Bulletin

NT ABC bulletin coverJournal Summary: Published twice a year, the National Trust Arts, Buildings & Collections Bulletin (ABC Bulletin) digital magazine showcases the latest curatorial and conservation news, projects and expertise at the National Trust.

Publisher: National Trust

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/art-and-collections-publications

Access: Open access PDF/online

Journal Type: Organisational publication

The National Trust: responding to COVID-19

Dunwich Heath © David Gill

COVID-19 is forcing us to rethink how we engage with heritage. How realistic will it be in the short term for large numbers of visitors to move safely through the public rooms of country houses? How will those public areas be cleaned? Can safe routes with a one-way system be developed?

These questions are made more complicated by the adoption of a pre-visit booking system. The days of visiting a property on a whim are now on hold.

The implications of these restrictions on the National Trust are huge. The Trust is facing a loss of income that is likely to be in the region of £200 million (‘Coronavirus: National Trust boss denies expert job cuts would ‘dumb down’ charity‘, BBC News 22 August 2020). And this means that there are likely to be redundancies among the staff.

The challenge is huge. Can properties be kept open and therefore generating an income if you reduce the staff who make this possible? But can you lose experienced staff who know the properties and their contents, and who can present a meaningful narrative to the public?

In the short term the National Trust will need to place an emphasis on its heritage landscapes where social distancing is possible and therefore where potential visitors can feel safe. But is the danger that these fragile landscapes will be damaged if there are too many visitors? What are the implications for wildlife and the natural heritage of these special places?

Perhaps the Greek inscription over the lintel of T.E. Lawrence’s cottage at Clouds Hill will make us pause to consider the future role of the organisation that cares for large parts of our nation’s heritage.

Clouds Hill © David Gill
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