Insights from the National Trust

I always knew there was a lot to be learnt from the National Trust. As the largest conservation charity in Europe and the second largest membership organisation in the UK, it has to be doing something right. However, during my summer internship I saw a side to the Trust I hadn’t seen before, and it made me realise just how much it has to offer.

The Trust’s purpose is a simple one: to look after special places for the benefit of the nation, for ever, for everyone. But it is how it goes about it that I find really inspiring.

Anglesey Abbey

‘For the benefit of the nation’ is not an empty statement. It has a variety of policies which focus on the importance of community engagement, supporting and promoting the diversity of local communities, and reflecting our shared multicultural heritage. I was lucky enough to see such policies in action being based at Anglesey Abbey, an innovative and lively property esteemed for its pioneering community work. Here the National Trust involves groups from mental health patients and troubled children from the Croft Child and Family Unit, to long-term unemployed young people, to people on training programmes with learning difficulties, in conservation work as a way of providing mutual benefits. By combining the therapeutic benefits of nature and the outdoors with practical conservation, the Trust is developing innovative ways of carrying out its vital conservation work which are relevant to the present day, while remaining true to the core values and beliefs of its founders:

“The need of quiet, the need of air, the need of exercise, and..the sight of sky and of things growing seem human needs, common to all men” – Octavia Hill

The National Trust, very much seeing its places as assets of ‘the nation’, also tries to involve people in its decisions wherever it can. Having witnessed the preparation and opening of the domestic wing at Anglesey Abbey, this is yet another area I have seen in practice. Here the public are being consulted on how they would like the rooms to be presented to them, in what time period and which part of the Abbey’s story they would like to see depicted through the rooms. By engaging the public in this way the Trust is able to give people a sense of ownership and involvement, making its work feel relevant to them, which is all part of its vision of everyone feeling like a member by 2020.

And it doesn’t stop there. What with its Green Energy Fund, 2020 energy targets and its ‘going local’ strategy, the Trust is linking up with related causes which are a broader expression of its values and objectives. Properties are being given more freedom to develop their individuality to focus on their place-specific stories, surroundings and culture, for example through their restaurant menus or shop stock. At Anglesey Abbey they now have signage produced by local arts groups, stock local produce in their shop and even use rabbits shot onsite in dishes in the restaurant! Many properties are also growing their own fruit and vegetables to sell and use in their restaurants, and the East of England regional office is fuelled by wood chips sourced from its neighbouring Ickworth property.

These approaches can be applied almost anywhere, including the campaign on climate change. To engage people in a cause they must feel it is relevant to them, that they have a stake in the outcome and that there is a genuine desire to involve them. Community action, providing wider benefits and connecting with other related causes are all great ways to reach out and engage different people.

The perception of the National Trust as old-fashioned and elitist couldn’t be further from the truth. Its changing image, strategies and innovations are all helping to break down this perception, and as a small part of these changes, being a National Trust Student Ambassador, I’m looking forward to engaging more students in the exciting things happening at National Trust places in Cambridge!

For more information on how to get involved with the National Trust as a student contact Alexandra on