The National Trust Commonwealth of Natural and Cultural Heritage?

Common values for Commonwealth Day

Unless you have a particular interest in legacy international organisations or are directly employed by the Foreign Office, chances are that you don’t know what today is. For the past 37 years the second Monday in March has been Commonwealth day to 30% of the world’s population– the percentage of these people conscious of this fact is another question. While it has a certain official status, Commonwealth Day is not a public holiday in most Commonwealth countries and there is little public awareness of it.

As another hangover of the long defunct British Empire the Commonwealth of Nations has been a somewhat underplayed and undervalued organisation- lacking in meaning, purpose and direction. However much of that is to change if politics can be believed:

“For the first time in the Commonwealth’s 64-year history, all of the Heads of Government belonging to the organisation have agreed to adopt a Commonwealth Charter. This means that the Commonwealth now has a single document which sets out basic values that the people of the Commonwealth believe in and which they expect their governments to support and protect.”

The Royal Commonwealth Society

Queen at CHOGM 2011 (C) Commonwealth Secretariat

The Commonwealth- just another international “talking shop”?

Britain’s relationship with the world has changed dramatically over the past 50 years, however due to historical influences Britain still has a substantial legacy and responsibility to many worldly nations. In much the same way the National Trust since its founding in 1895 has inspired the birth of a wealth of directly modelled ‘national trusts’ throughout the world, so too do the NT’s responsibilities exceed lines drawn on a map. Being one of the oldest and largest of these trusts the National Trust has a duty to encourage co-operation and take leadership to forward matters of international importance, from universal policy to issues of heritage conservation and climate change. The National Trust is often used as a source of advice and direction for these smaller world wide trusts; due to this a need was seen to create a supranational platform through which to provide professional advice and coordination between the trusts- INTO.

Another important but relatively unknown transnational organisation is the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO). Although established recently in 2007, the current iteration is a budding growth from roots put down in the International Conference of National Trusts (ICNTs) since 1978. INTO is a worldwide organisation created to bring together and co-ordinate the many similar non-governmental organisations (NGOs) concerned with shared commitments in protecting natural and built heritage.

INTO Logo“The overarching mission of INTO is to promote the conservation and enhancement of the cultural and natural heritage of all nations for the benefit of the people of the world.”

Simon Molesworth, Chairman of the Executive Committee, INTO

The National Trust is a founding member of INTO and hosts the Secretariat in our London office at Grosvenor Gardens, where a number of our staff share roles between the two NGOs. INTO’s birth was inspired by an obvious need to create a dedicated international platform for the national trusts. It’s no coincidence that the majority of INTO ‘member trusts’ worldwide are from countries also belonging to the Commonwealth.

Another interesting aspect of this integration is the venerable National Trust Membership. Purchase one adult NT membership at £55.50 on your visit to Stourhead in Wiltshire and you can gain further free entry to 1000’s of important cultural and natural sites across the world; from Fort Gomo Kadzamu in Zimbabwe and the Stuart Town Gaol in Australia to viewing the Sooke Potholes in Canada. Surely no other organisation can offer such a smorgasbord of entry to worldwide cultural treats, combined with political clout and influence with just one membership card? Perhaps the Commonwealth can learn a thing or two from the National Trust about worldwide integration and economic value!

The next ICNT- the 15th International Conference of National Trusts will take place in Entebbe, Uganda, from September 30th 2013 to October 4th 2013. Like Commonwealth Day this is a chance to celebrate the great diversity within most of the English speaking world- coupled with great unity through common aims and common values for the benefit of mankind.

  • Alec James has worked in the National Trust for the past 5 years in various Public Relations and Communication roles throughout the South West and Central Office. In his current role in the National Press Office he works largely in environmental, wildlife and government planning press work.
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