Editor’s comment October 2020
PUBLISHED: 12:50 01 October 2020 | UPDATED: 09:45 05 October 2020
Mike Lowe is sceptical about the National Trust’s plans to modernise and questions whether a Nandos would work in Northleach
My deep suspicion of how some of our biggest charities manage their affairs is well known to regular readers. The RSPCA, Oxfam, Save the Children – their fat cat bosses all pay themselves far too much, they spend ridiculous amounts on ‘administration’ and their left-leaning political policies mean that they’ve moved far away from their original purpose, so betraying all the little old ladies who’ve left them money in their wills. The RSPCA, for example, kills 30% of all the animals it ‘rescues’.
And I doubt that Mrs Suburbia of Surbiton realised that, when she left a small legacy to the National Trust, it would be spent on a pointless and expensive TV advert of waves washing on the shore. What’s that all about? Why does the National Trust need such branding? Who doesn’t know what they are and what they do? (Or should do, anyway.)
The National Trust looks after some of this region’s greatest historical treasures – Chedworth Roman Villa, Newark Park, Dyrham Park, Hidcote, to name just a few. Its mission statement says: “We protect and care for places so people and nature can thrive. We look after the nation’s coastline, historic sites, countryside and green spaces, ensuring everyone benefits.”
Well, one group of people who aren’t benefiting are the 1,200 National Trust staff who face redundancy, including many senior curators – significant scholars of architecture, paintings, sculpture, textiles, silver, furniture and historic gardens. While our constant companion Virus Lockdown conveniently gets the blame, the Trust’s latest 10-year strategy document gives away the real reason behind this cultural genocide. The charity’s big thinkers have decided that it offers an “outdated mansion experience serving a loyal but dwindling audience”, i.e. people who like strolling around beautiful old houses while admiring magnificent exhibits. In other words, you and me.
The plan is therefore to ditch the oldies by closing a huge number of houses, reducing opening times and instead making properties available to “people who are prepared to pay more” for “specialised experiences”. Hen nights and bouncy castles spring to mind. The rest of the document is couched in that strange language invented by trendy, left-leaning ‘modernisers’ that is incomprehensible to normal people.
Now, this is not some struggling charity, rendered penniless by the pandemic. The National Trust has six million members, 70,000 volunteers and 15,000 staff. Most importantly, it has reserves of £1.3 billion.
So modernise away by all means, but do it in partnership with the existing experts who are the Trust’s great strength. And if the price of being able to gaze with wonder at the marvellous madcap collection at Newark Park is having to do it in the company of gibbering youths who can’t even keep their jeans around their waist, then so be it.
With those poor Stakhanovites who commute into London being herded onto tube trains and frog-marched back to their office desks in a desperate bid to save the coffee shop culture of the capital, we should look at the benefits to our local towns of the new-normal of working from home.
If we’re not spending money on wilting sandwiches and over-priced coffee in the city centres, then we must be spending it closer to home – in our independent shops and on our local High Streets. That is a clear benefit of the lockdown. But there is a downside.
The property developers and corporate landlords are now missing out on their lucrative rents as chain after chain of national brands shut up shop and sack their staff. They will want to replace that lost income by taking their legalised looting elsewhere, targeting the previously modest returns they were getting from shops and stores in smaller towns. And that means us.
The signs are already there; literally, in the case of one parade of shops I often use where the landlord is advertising premises for rent even though they’re already occupied by local businesses. And what happens when Pret and Costa, forced out of the big cities by declining footfall, come calling? Local rents won’t even make them blink after the eye-watering costs of central London, and local independents could find themselves priced out of the market.
A McDonald’s in Minchinhampton, a KFC in Kemble or a Nandos in Northleach? Don’t rule it out.
Mike Lowe, firstname.lastname@example.org