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 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.
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).
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.
Journal 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.
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 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.
The chapel at Tyntesfield (managed by the National Trust) contains this stained glass window designed by Harry Ellis Wooldridge in the 1870s. (The chapel was completed in 1875.) The scene shows the Athenians, seated on the rocky Areopagos, listening to Paul. The backdrop is the Athenian akropolis with the Propylaia and the Parthenon. Note that the view of the akropolis is not the one seen from the Areopagos.