The National Trust is more popular than at any time in its history after the charity’s tally of members soared to 5m.
The conservation charity has welcomed a million new members in the last six years alone, having previously taken 86 years to reach its first million.
A record-high of 24.5m people visited the National Trust’s paid-for entry properties and an estimated 200m trips were made to its coast and countryside last year.
The surge in support for the Trust has meant more money than ever before has been poured back into looking after the 500 places the Trust cares for on behalf of the nation.
Tim Parker, the charity’s chairman, said: “The National Trust is truly unique. There is no other organisation like it in the world, a charity the looks after historic homes, beautiful landscapes and coastline for the nation, for ever. That’s something I’m proud to be a part of, and something I sense our members, our volunteers and visitors are proud to be part of too.
“We now have more members and visitors than at any time in its history, with a million people joining in just the last six years alone.
“That suggests the country’s love affair with its heritage and great outdoors has never been stronger. In the busy, noisy world we now live in perhaps it’s never been more important to escape to the peace, beauty and inspiration of our places.”
Thanks to the growing support, the conservation charity – independent of government and funded entirely by membership, visitor income, donations and commercial activities – has doubled the number of curators.
The conservation charity also completed a number of major projects this year, including a multi-million pound conservation studio at Knole in Kent, urgent roof repairs at Dyrham Park, near Bath, and the restoration of Quarry Bank Glasshouse in Cheshire.
And in a drive to help wildlife recover in its countryside, the Trust aims to create 25,0000 hectares (the equivalent of 33,000 football pitches) of new habitats by 2025.
Helen Ghosh, the director-general, promised conservation will remain “at the heart of all we do”.
“We’ve never lost sight of our core purpose. Conservation and access drives everything we do. I’m pleased to say we’re now spending more money than at any time in our history on funding vital conservation work at the historic houses, countryside and coast we look after for the nation,” she said.
“We can only carry out this programme of maintaining, repairing and improving our places thanks to the support and generosity of our supporters, members and donors.”
The extra income generated from visits and memberships, combined with an improved commercial performance, helped fund the rising cost of looking after the 300 historic houses, 250,000 hectares of countryside and 775 miles of coastline in the Trust’s care.
The annual report reveals a record £139.3m was spent on maintaining and improving some of Britain’s best-loved places in 2016, a 15% rise on £120.8m spent the previous year.
A further £255m was spent on the day-to-day costs involved in operating over 500 National Trust places across Wales, Northern Ireland and England.
Donations and gifts from legacies also rose as generous supporters pledged a combined £73m to the charity last year, helping to fund a number of different projects including a campaign to reinvigorate Churchill’s legacy and secure the future of his former Chartwell home.
Around 96% of Trust visitors scored their experience as enjoyable last year – well above the industry average. However the number who rated their visit as ‘very enjoyable’ fell to 56%, and the Trust is working on strengthening its programmes of events at properties and improving facilities, like tea shops and car parks.
Helen added: “We’re not complacent and know there’s still room for improvement. We know some properties can become crowded over certain key weekends in the year, which can affect visitor enjoyment and we know that people’s expectations continue to grow. We’re working hard to address these issues, but we’re confident that the Trust is in good health and the figures show that the overwhelming majority of people enjoy visiting our places.”
Notes to editors
The charity was founded in 1895, but it took the organisation until 1981 to reach its first million members. The charity reached four million members by the end of 2011.
Amongst the major conservation projects undertaken last year were:
- A £19.8m state of the art conservation studio was opened at Knole in Kent. Part of the largest building and restoration project in the National Trust’s history, the studio houses a dedicated team of conservation specialists who work on paintings, furniture and objects from the property in front of some of Knole’s 149,000 annual visitors.
- At Dyrham Park, near Bath, a £4m project to replace the leaking roof was completed.
- Kedleston Hall, Derbyshire: The return of the 18th-century state bed to Kedleston Hall marked the completion of a 30-year restoration of the state rooms. Highly skilled traditional craftsmanship has brought back to life the decoration, precious gilt furniture and works of art. 1,500 metres of bespoke silk damask have been hung on the walls in the state apartment alone, painstakingly recreated from surviving scraps of the original fabric.
- 7,400 individual hand-blown glass panes – described as completing a jigsaw with missing pieces – to restore a rare glasshouse at Quarry Bank in Cheshire. Built in the 1820s, it is one of the earliest surviving curvilinear cast-iron glasshouses in the country and provided a wealth of produce for the owners.
- £10m was invested in buying land, property and artwork for the nation, including: The Liddesdale, a clinker-built electrically powered canoe built by Horsham & Co. for the Astor family in 1920 for Cliveden, Buckinghamshire; several envelopes and an invitation addressed and signed by Benjamin Disraeli (1804–81) and Mary Ann Disraeli (1792– 1872) for Hughenden, Buckinghamshire; a copy of the novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), with an inscription by the author to Edward Sackville-West, 5th Lord Sackville (1901–65).