A wonderful sunny day in rural Cambridgeshire today – a real tonic in itself after the rains and storms of previous few days – and the transport chaos in London on Thursday night. But more importantly an opportunity to visit Wimpole Hall, one of the main venues of the 2015 International Conference of National Trusts and to talk more about the content and themes with our hosts.
We have been batting about various iterations of the ‘getting in good shape for the 21st Century’ theme. From capacity building for National Trusts to reconciling technology, authenticity and experience with audience needs. From developing new approaches to managing the pressures on land and natural resources to financing our future in a post-austerity world.
Discussions today were wide-ranging. Difficult things like budgets and contracts as well as fun things like conference bags! But we feel we may have cracked the 2015 theme, which is moving firmly towards re-stating the role of the National Trust movement, 120 years on.
This will allow us to talk about what makes the National Trust approach unique and special and will provide a framework for all sorts of sharing, learning and growing the movement. The NT model of sustainable, community-based conservation has proved fairly resilient in this country over the years but are we ready as a movement for what’s next? How much change can we absorb? How do we know when to put our feet down? Here in the UK we’re in the middle of some extreme weather conditions with flooding and coastal erosion both very much on the local team’s mind. What are National Trusts doing to adapt to these threats and how can we learn from each other?
The way we manage land in the future, particularly in the light of ever increasing development threats across the world, is becoming a key issue for our movement. As Octavia Hill said, we all have a right to beauty and fresh air but National Trust properties cannot become arks or oases amid a sea of ugliness. How do we reconcile our desire for greener energy and better public transport with our scepticism over large infrastructure projects? How do we build the resilience of our planning system, our farmers and communities in the face of perceived economic gain?
National Trusts need to be resilient too about their finances and look for new ways of funding our conservation work. Our INTO members have innovative experiences to share and we look forward to sending delegates home with a practical toolkit full of tips and strategies.
Following on from the Uganda Conference, Cambridge will give us the opportunity to look closely at remaining relevant, particularly among the diverse societies in which we all now live. How can we reach out to a wider public? How do we ensure that the stories we tell engage and delight a modern audience? Is there a golden thread running through all our work – a global ‘bum settler’ for heritage conservation??
Do we all see our children becoming divorced from the values and activities that we enjoyed when we were young? In this country kids are cocooned in cotton wool and are missing out on life chances to climb trees, play in the outdoors and explore. The effects of this loss are long lasting and include increased childhood obesity and mental health issues. Let’s share best practice in reaching out to the next generation and see how we can build on the natural interest of young people in the rest of the world to engage children and young people in our work and the National Trust movement.
So much to report … !!! Too much to write in this blog on the train home from Cambridge, having had tea with Dame Fiona Reynolds, former Director-General of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and a passionate supporter of INTO and the International Conference of National Trusts.
Over the next few months, we will begin to flesh out the programme and plan to launch a dedicated conference website later this year.
Watch this space and we look forward to sharing and learning with you in 2015!