National Trust to 'dial-down' Mansions

August 19 2020

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Times have published an article on news that the National Trust is due to 'dial down' its role from being the custodian of the country home.

This change of direction seems to be related to a new ten year plan envisioned by its directors to reconfigure the 'outdated mansion experience...serving a loyal but dwindling audience' and reprioritise itself as a 'gateway to the outdoors'.

Bendor, who has written a thread detailing his views on the changes, posted a screen shot on Twitter detailing what the Trust are planning for their mansions:

Mansions - from evolution to revolution

The changes we'll need in our built places are revolutionary not evolutionary. We won't get there by encouraging local innovation and gradual scaling of good ideas, which is how we've approached this up to now. We will need a much more directed approach to change, and these are the first steps:

- We urgently need an alternative to the current mansion opening model - with its unsustainable reliance on large numbers of static volunteer roles.

- Differentiation - so we're really clear about the scope of potential change at each place.

- New guidance on collections - We need to be much clearer about the places where we can begin changing our approach to collections display - moving objects or taking them off display where needed to make spaces more flexible and accessible.

- A major change in collections presentation and storage: without this we'll be unable to flex our mansion offer to create the more active, fun and useful experiences that our audiences will be looking for in future.

It seems that some treasure houses, such as Petworth for example, will be preserved in their current format for now. Others though will have many parts of its collections put into storage. The changes will also affect the structure of the curatorial departments, with fewer specialists in individual fields such as 'furniture' and due to be replaced with time-period specialists instead.


Overall, the leadership of the National Trust seem to be suggesting that they have lost faith in the cultural significance of the Country House. It is possible they have followed the advice of ‘Marketing specialists’, who have suggested that it is impossible to be both a custodian of historic houses and beautiful landscapes.

Afterall, it is possible that they are simply reacting to the increasingly vocal side of the argument that claims that the Country House conceals irredeemable evils that must be rejected outright.  Instead of instituting gradual changes, that don't dismantle the knowledge and expertise which these cultural institutions hold and nurture, such ‘activists’ seem to enjoy advocating the tearing down institutions whilst reverting to nature worship. Furthermore, the virus context has given many organisations the opportunity to make use this crisis to push forward vast and overtly radical changes which will alienate vast swathes of loyal visitors and art lovers.


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