Last week, together with Oliver Maurice and Noémie Caillat, I met a group of researchers from Thailand exploring the possibility of a Thai National Trust. They were directed to INTO via the British Council in Bangkok, which in itself is rather pleasing as it reinforces INTO’s goal of becoming the go-to place for communities thinking of setting up a National Trust!
The delegates had a background in history and conservation and were led by Lt Gen Vivat Visanuvimol who manages a botanic garden in Chiang Mai. After our meeting I had arranged for them to spend time with the wonderful General Manager at Chartwell, Maggie Morgan, who has helped out with other INTO matters over the years and has a good knowledge of property and trust management practice. Winston Churchill’s home is an unusual NTEWNI property as its significance is particularly bound up with its former owner and it is one of the Trust’s most visited pay-for-entry properties (i.e. many overseas visitors or people who just want to visit Chartwell, rather than being/becoming a member of the National Trust).
In advance of the meeting, I had contacted our INTO members, the Siam Society, for some background information and learned of their fears for the protection of vernacular heritage – existing legal tools are focused on important temples, archaeological site and very exceptional buildings.
The Siam Society and Siam Heritage Trust have been promoting the idea of a National Trust for Cultural Heritage to protect, restore and add economic value to cultural heritage; to promote the idea of community participation in heritage conservation; and to provide funding, incentives and knowledge.
The researchers were particularly interested in different National Trust models around the world and degrees of independence from government. Both groups however agreed that whilst state funding or support would be unavoidable, particularly in the early stages, the Trust would need to be able to operate independently of government and should be able to buy and/or receive property from the private sector.
There is general support for the idea of establishing a National Trust and the researchers felt that membership, donation and volunteering were all viable propositions in Thailand. However as in many other countries, it’s a big leap of faith (from both sides) to form an organisation, which is partly funded by government and looks after government-owned property, but that is seeking private investors and individual donors and volunteers.
The researchers intend to use their visit to Europe as the basis for a bigger project proposal and we are standing by to support them in that work. We will also do what we can to bolster the Siam Heritage Trust’s efforts in the hope that a multi-pronged approach will succeed in preserving and protecting Thailand’s wonderful – and irreplaceable – heritage.
Thanks for reading!