Wednesday, 20 September 2017

At last the National Trust is standing up for our heritage - my Coalville Times column

About fifteen years ago Christmas was fast approaching and for the first time since meeting my wonderful wife I was stumped as to what to get her as a gift.

After a few years of marriage I had done all of the usual presents: perfume, jewellery and lingerie and I didn’t want to get a reputation of being too predictable. I could have plumped for something that she really needed, a new Dyson or a washing machine for example, but even I with my limited knowledge of the ways of the female gender knew that probably wasn’t a good idea.

Despite weeks of thinking, at that stage little did I know that most husbands save gift shopping for 3.00pm on Christmas Eve, I was a drawing a blank; and then I had a brainwave. My wife’s gift wouldn’t be a present just for Christmas Day but one for the whole year.

With a young family and busy lives we would make time for each other by doing things and going to places. On Christmas morning my wife woke up to family tickets to Conkers, Snibston Discovery Park and annual memberships to English Heritage and the National Trust; she had tickets to the theatre, concerts and even a weekend away. It would be a year of experiences.

We absolutely loved all of the places that we went to either as a family or just the two of us. I have to say the greatest let down, for us, was Snibston; the biggest highlight the many beautiful houses and gardens of the National Trust.

In fact the National Trust is the one thing that we have carried on with this past fifteen years. We very soon realised that as lovely as days out at stately homes are that isn’t actually the purpose of membership. In joining we were supporting a vital charity dedicated to the preservation of our most important history and heritage.

Over the years, as our children grow up, we’ve made holidays of touring National Trust properties in one region or another (I strongly recommend Devon and Cornwall); we’ve walked dogs through rolling countryside and we’ve tasted far more cream teas than we should have.

For the very first time, however, I’ve been thinking of cancelling our membership to the National Trust; it’s not the history that I have fallen out of love with it’s the politics.

It all started at Easter this year when it was reported that the Church of England had accused the Trust of “airbrushing faith” from their annual Easter Egg Hunt in favour of a commercial partner. In a ludicrous decision seemingly made based on income and secularising the most important Christian feast the National Trust plastered their website with images inviting customers to enjoy the ‘Cadbury Egg Hunt’.

For me at least it was the thin end of a very large wedge. If the National Trust is a charity dedicated to history then a significant part of that is our Christian tradition; it shouldn’t simply be airbrushed for commercial convenience or political correctness.

It got worse though. The lifeblood of National Trust properties are the wonderful and hugely knowledgeable volunteers, often retired folk well into their eighties, who staff each room open to visitors on a daily basis.

Last month volunteers at Felbrigg Hall in Norfolk were informed that as part of an LGBTQ promotion room stewards, who give huge amounts of time voluntarily, would be required to wear rainbow badges highlighting the gay pride movement. Volunteers who, for many reasons, said that they did not feel comfortable wearing the badges were informed they would be found duties away from their normal roles and from the paying public.

The National Trust has always been perceived as a gentle, kindly organisation and, whilst I and many other like me would happily wear such a badge, there is something a ungrateful and a little sinister about a charity who is embarrassed by the decent people who have given so much to it over the years.

Last week though, for the first time in many months, I sensed that there may be light at the end of the tunnel; that the National Trust may be regaining its sense of place and proportion. You see an online petition has been doing the rounds, and gaining momentum, calling for the Trust to revoke all licences which allow hunts to use its land.

Thank heavens for once the trustees of this iconic organisation are standing up to the kneejerk, reactionary cyber-warriors calling for such an idiotic proposition.

‘Hunting’ is a rich part of British history; it is inextricably linked with many of the homes and estates managed by the National Trust. It is, to my mind, absolutely right that fox hunting has been banned; at the same time it is imperative, not just for historic reasons but for the thousands of contemporary jobs that rely upon it, that legal hunting of an artificial scent is not only tolerated but actively encouraged.

The National Trust though have made it clear that for once they don’t intend on backing down stating ‘We always look to welcome people to our places and host the broadest range of outdoor activities on our land. We believe that this should include trail ‘hunting’, where it is consistent with our conservation aims and is legally pursued.’


In their seemingly endless attempts to attract metropolitan liberals through incessant political correctness it’s great to see this important organisation, for once, standing up for rural communities, our history and our heritage. My membership may well be safe for another year.

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