INTO’s biennial Conference came to a close yesterday. What a wonderful week in Beautiful Bermuda! The Bermuda National Trust, its volunteers, colleagues and supporters organised the whole thing beautifully and I really enjoyed getting to know the island’s people and places. As I’m still really only just digesting the whole experience, here is an edited version of my end of conference speech by way of summary.
Before I came to Bermuda, I had a look in the archives for files about the last Bermuda Conference. (I was, of course, far too young to be there in 1989!)
It was lovely to see some familiar names on the programme (like Ed Harris and David Wingate). But also to read some of the press reports. Like this one from the Bermuda Sun of 1 December 1989:
“Since its inception some 20 years ago, the Bermuda National Trust has developed into a powerful agency for good in our community. Two weeks back it reinforced its position by playing host to more than 60 delegates from Trusts in 21 countries around the world. Blessed with unusually fine weather for this time of year (!) the visitors interspersed their business meetings with a walk, a visit to Nonsuch, tours of the island and home hospitality. Everyone seemed to love the place; many were impressed with the outstanding progress that our local Trust had made, while the number of volunteers helping out struck some as ‘fantastic’ … some of the fledgling Trusts were clearly anxious to learn more about fundraising, lobbying and general administration from their host.”
Well, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!
For me, there were three themes running through the conference:
One has been the extraordinary diversity of what the NTs of the world do. (Watch our ‘We are INTO‘ video here!) We heard stories of biodiversity loss and invasive species, of historic site interpretation and building skills, of managing small islands and climate of heritage inventories and volunteerism; of building membership, fundraising and volunteerism; and of ensuring that the heritage preserved by INTO members fully reflects our communities. What amazing organisations you all are!
It was a pleasure to share experiences, to listen to committed voices. To remember that the things that concern us are basically the same.
The second theme is that we are stronger together. Queen Quet’s song at the beginning “Walk together children, don’t you get weary” set us off on the right path. (The whole speech is really worth a watch here.) This was further underlined by Gus Casley-Hayforth who said how important it was to gather as communities and nations to be inspired. (His speech is also worth a read and can be found here.)
Darren Peacock continued this by saying that no Trust is an island and that everything is connected. (This was a theme of our 2011 Conference in Victoria where ‘Everything is connected’ is a Coast Salish saying.)
And the third part is that we’ve all agreed how important it is to open our arms as wide as possible.
Gus talked about doing the right thing. I’ve long wanted to quote Professor Dumbledore in a work context as I actually feel this applies quite well to a lot of us: “Do you know why I admire you, Newt? You don’t seek power or popularity. You simply ask, is the thing right in itself? If it is, then I must do it, no matter the cost.”
We heard so many words of wisdom from Princess Dana, from being brave enough to say “no” to putting human dignity at the heart of what we do.
Fiona said that this was the most moving and important discussion INTO has ever had and I believe it is. It hasn’t always been comfortable but why should it be? We have an important job to do and need to be challenged at times. Queen Quet talked about the democratisation of heritage “continuation” (rather than preservation, which should be reserved for jarring food!). Dame Pamela Gordon-Banks was concerned that we don’t reflect the communities we represent. And Jeremy Harris asked us to think about ‘universal natural rights’ and be more neighbourly with our planet.
I loved thinking of John Orna-Ornstein having a Mr Bean moment drying off in the lovely Bermuda toilets. Moreover he spoke very powerfully about the way heritage can provide the space for healing both fractured communities and people suffering from social isolation.
It was arresting to hear Gail Lord say that we looked after the heritage of hard power.
And I particularly loved David Brown’s presentation where he reminded us that there’s always more to do. That we need to “get comfortable with the emotional ways people see their heritage” and “the period of significance is now“. David’s speech text can be found here.
And these are just some of the dialogues from the plenary sessions. There were so many wonderful connections and conversations amongst all the delegates in workshops, on buses, over mealtimes throughout the four days. I hope these were as useful to you as they were for me, and will make a difference back home.
If you read my blog, you’ll know that making a difference is one of my core personal values, along with harmony, beauty, resourcefulness and growth. Bundled together, these values are a good fit with what we’re trying to do through the conference. It’s about contributing to the world, not just consuming it. Doing what we can to understand, help and support people. Being a part of something, belonging to a group of friends, a club, family, home, the National Trust movement. Learning new things and building habits that lead to continual improvement. It’s also about creating the conditions for others to grow, both individuals and organisations.
I feel I have grown again this week with you all. Fitting that we met here in Bermuda. A beautiful place with a rich and diverse built, natural and cultural heritage. Somewhere with a history of strategic importance, and a love of partying.
As I said, I’ve been delving into the archives. And recalling email conversations with William Zuill senior who by the time INTO started had become the unofficial historian of the International Conference of National Trusts. (His musings over the “grim nights in a church retreat centre in Waltham Massachusetts – rooms with bare concrete walls and bed which were a slight cut above camp cots” raise a smile when I think about more recent ICNT accommodation standards!)
I particularly remember receiving his comments on my first draft organisational strategy. He found it “an overly cold document” and his suggestions for warming it up included the liberal use of the word ‘comradeship’: “We aim to achieve this through co-operation, co-ordination and comradeship.” “INTO was founded as a result of the comradeship and the spreading of information among the National Trusts.” “The biennial gathering focuses on comradeship and inspiring employees and volunteers with the spirit of the National Trust movement.”
I think this says a lot about William Zuill, a man who prized warm friendship and solidarity. And it seems fitting to end on that note here in beautiful Bermuda. I have greatly enjoyed the past few days with you all here. I have enjoyed visiting beautiful places. And I have learned loads, have reconnected with some of the distant parts of our movement. I hope that being here has made a difference for you and that you too have felt comfortable, welcome and part of the team. As that is what INTO is all about.
A huge thank you to all our hosts for the wonderful and warm welcome we have all received. Particular thanks to Alana Anderson in her role as President of the Bermuda National Trust for opening her arms and heart to us this week.
Thanks too to all our sponsors, but especially those that enabled the attendance of such a wide range of countries. Thank you to the International and Local Steering Committees for their diligent preparation of the Conference programme.
And lastly, thanks to you. Thank you for coming, for sharing your experience and wisdom. Thank you for helping us to make this Conference the “best ever”. And lastly thank you for your friendship and your commitment to this great movement we all belong to and serve.
Watch the debate with Queen Quet, HRH Princess Dana of Jordan, Catherine Leonard, Dame Fiona Reynolds and Alana Anderson:
Thanks for reading!