The Road from Bermuda
Appointed in March this year, I spent a first week in equal parts bewilderment and excitement, inspired by the incredible richness of the conference that the Bermuda National Trust were kind enough to host. It was definitely a plunge into the ‘deep end’ of the global National Trust movement, which gave me a real taste for the variety that defines our membership and their work to support conservation around the globe.
Since then, I’ve been getting to know INTO from the inside, realising that our success is dependent on our engagement with our membership. We need to be creating work that benefits and excites our members, as well as looking for opportunities to amplify their voices on the world stage. That’s the rationale behind our TAP-INTO Grants , and ASK-INTO expertise matching programme. Ultimately, our capacity to do these things comes down to how keenly we understand our members (now 80) – their priorities, interests and areas where international collaboration can enrich their practice.
My two weeks with the National Trust for Scotland certainly didn’t disappoint in providing those kinds of insights. The generosity of my hosts allowed me a real insight into the workings of an INTO member which is at once very similar and very different to our usual hosts in London.
A remote portfolio
Looking at the NTS from the outside, I quickly decided that I wanted to go North into the Highlands, as the kind of wild places management needed to look after this part of Scotland is something that defines the National Trust for Scotland’s portfolio. From the three day journey needed to visit Fair Isle to the weeks of wintry isolation on St Kilda when the ferry cannot leave port, this part of the world is much more at the mercy of the elements than the average.
Arriving in Inverness to be met by the regional manager Clea Warner, I quickly gained a personal understanding of this, as our plan to visit Inverewe on the west coast was abandoned – an overnight storm had closed the road slongside Loch Ness. The same storm had also closed the train line back to Edinburgh, so I set off on my replacement itinerary with some trepidation about where I would sleep that night.
Concerns about getting home were quickly forgotten as we arrived at the beautiful Brodie Castle, where I saw evidence first hand of the NTS investment in visitor services over the last few years, with the recently opened, daffodil-themed ‘playful garden’ filled with young families in search of the Brodie Bunny.
Brodie sat in sharp contrast to Culloden, the place where the JAcobite rebellion came to an end. Here I learnt about how the NTS is working to engage the community in a consultation on planned housing development that will be visible from the battlefield. Called the Culloden 300, the success of this campaign offers an interesting example of best practice for INTO members looking at harnessing local opinion in support of their conservation objectives. Finishing in the site shop, I was struck by the wide selection of locally sourced products, with bottles of Culloden Whisky flying off the shelves.
Urban Heritage and innovation
In my second week, I was lucky enough to be hosted by Richard Williams, Regional Director for the properties around Glasgow, who took me for a second day visit. We began the day in Tenement House, Glasgow, notable for its heritage of ordinary people rather than a prestige dwelling and with clear parallels to the National Trust for Historic Preservation site with a similar name in New York. I was particularly taken with the property’s approach to the local community, with volunteer-made cushions, bespoke to the house, selling for an excellent return and rooms opened up for use by community groups in a way that’s reminiscent of the NT’s Sutton House in Hackney.
On to Helensburgh and the Hill House, built by Scotland’s own Charles Mackintosh. The beautiful house has recently undergone a £4.5million rescue project to halt the ill effects of rain, which has taken on even greater urgency since the 2018 fire (the second in five years) gutted the Glasgow School of Art.
The chainmail box built around the house, difficult to really appreciate until seen in person, is quite staggering, and the NTS team have really capitalised on its potential for interpretation of conservation. Allowing new angles and lines of sight onto the property, in some was the box enhances the visitor experience to the house, and is certainly preferable to a comparable scaffolding construction.
As the box allows the house to dry, the NTS will now have some breathing space to find funds for restoration works on the house. Once these are complete, the Trust will have to ask itself whether the box has become part of the property itself, as an Eiffel Tower of Dunbartonshire.
What does it mean for INTO?
Summarising only my two days out on visits is a disservice to the fascinating conversations that I also had at the head office in Edinburgh, but this post is already long enough for now.
Given all the intriguing insights that being embedded in the NTS has provided, my conclusion is that this is a model that works. By its nature, the work of INTO often involves time spent facilitating international exchanges, and there was so much to learn from a placement within NTS that am already looking forward to my next opportunity to get to grips with a member. If you’d like to adopt a Deputy Secretary-General, please get in touch.