The National Trust names new Director of Curation and Experience

The National Trust has appointed John Orna-Ornstein as its first Director of Curation and Experience.

John will join the conservation charity from Arts Council England, where he has been the national Director of Museums and regional director for arts and culture in the East of England.

During that time, he has played a key role in funding, developing and advocating for England’s regional museums at a time of huge pressure on their public funding.

He spent his early career as a curator in the British Museum’s department of coins and medals, going on to lead the museum’s programme of national work and its community partnerships across London.

John will join the Trust in June and will lead the delivery of one of the charity’s key strategic aims – to provide experiences for its visitors that ‘move, teach and inspire’ across its many built and outdoor places.

He will have specific responsibility for leading the curatorial and visitor experience strategies at the Trust, which welcomed a record numbers of people to its houses, countryside and coastline last year.

Helen Ghosh, the Trust’s Director General, said: “John’s career is an impressive blend of curation, public engagement and arts experience, both at a hands-on and strategic level, making him the outstanding candidate for this key role.

“It’s an exciting time for John to be joining our charity. We’re doubling the number of curators we employ – from 36 to around 65 full time staff over the next two years.  These changes mean that the Trust is committed to investing more in curatorial excellence than at any time in its history.”

Commenting on his appointment, John said: “The National Trust cares for many of my favourite places as well as some extraordinary collections.

“I’m enormously excited to have the opportunity to work with the Trust in bringing those places and collections to life, and making sure they are relevant to the widest possible range of people across the UK.

“As I leave Arts Council England I’m proud of what it is achieving, and particularly of the new funding and support it is making available to museums. I’ll look forward to exploring new opportunities for the Trust to collaborate with artists, creative organisations and museums.”

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Thorneythwaite Farm QAs

The National Trust has received a number of questions relating to the purchase of land at Thorneythwaite, in the Lake District.

Below, we have provided answers to the most common queries to try and help people understand our approach.

Why did the Trust want to buy the land at Thorneythwaite? 

The land at Thorneythwaite was split into two plots by the auctioneers: the farm land and a farm house. The Trust used its charitable funds to bid for the land rather than the building.

This was a once in a generation opportunity to secure this beautiful landscape for the nation.

We are passionate about conserving the beauty and uniqueness of the Lake District. We bid for this land because it offers such amazing places for wildlife including woodland featuring veteran trees, riverside fields, open craggy fell and wood pasture. It is home to a wealth of important wildlife including redstarts and pied flycatchers.

We believe we can look after this land in way which benefits nature, our visitors and the local community. Managing much of the surrounding land in Borrowdale means we can take a ‘big picture’ view of how we manage the wider landscape, and it allows us to focus on delivering healthy soil, natural water management, thriving natural habitats and continued public access.

We will also explore how we may be able to use the farm to slow the flow of the Upper River Derwent, thereby contributing to the prevention of flooding downstream in communities such as Keswick and Cockermouth.

What does the sale mean for the future of Herdwick farming and why has a working farm been broken up?

The Trust has a long history of, and is committed to the tradition of Herdwick farming. We have an existing stock of 21,000 Herdwicks and own 90 farms in the Lake District, 54 of which are fell farms.

The Trust did not break up the farm. The private owners decided to sell the land in two separate plots – thereby splitting the land and the farm. The Trust used its charitable funds to bid for the land rather than the building. We did not have the funds to buy both lots and prioritised the 300 acres of land.

There was still an opportunity for someone to purchase both parcels together after we had bid for the land.

The land will be managed by a tenant, and we have already had several expressions of interest. It will be farmed with nature in mind but it will continue to support a flock of Herdwick sheep.

We understand some people believe we should also have bought the farm house and continued to manage the land in the same way. However, given our limited funds, we believe that this was the right approach and we’re pleased to have secured the land for the nation.

Why put in a bid of £950,000 – when the guide price was £750,000?

The guide price was £750,000 for the land. This is where the auction process gets quite complex.

The private owner decided to spilt the land and the farm into two separate lots for sale to maximise the value. The Trust had no influence over the vendor’s decision to do this i.e (the farm was split up by the vendor not the Trust).

The guide price for both was around £1.55m, although they were marketed as two individual lots: with a guide price of £750,000 for the land and £800,000 for the farm and buildings.

Despite being sold as two separate lots, the auctioneer also reserved the right to package both together at the end of process – once all the bids were in – to ensure they achieved the highest price possible (i.e. bids were not binding until this final stage where they could all be effectively gazumped).

That meant that even if the Trust was the highest bidder for the land – it would face the risk of losing it if the auctioneer decided to package the two together for a price it could not afford.

The £950,000 bid was therefore a calculation based on how much the Trust would need to offer to secure the land and minimise the risk of losing out if the two lots were sold together.

In making our bid we were also guided by the independent valuation, which was much higher than the asking price. This took into account the internationally important conservation features of the land; it offers a rich and diverse mosaic of habitats including woodland featuring veteran trees, riverside fields, open craggy fell and wood pasture; home to a wealth of important wildlife.

The Trust did not have the funds to buy both the farm and the land.

What will happen to the flock of sheep on the land?

The land acquired does not become ours until 14 October 2016. The land purchase included a flock of sheep, and they are currently still the responsibility of the Lodore Estate and their current tenant.

After the 14 October, the sheep will be owned by the National Trust. We are currently talking to a number of National Trust agricultural tenants from the Borrowdale valley, following a number of expressions of interest to help us manage the land and the flock of sheep. It will continue to support a flock of Herdwick sheep.

Where are the tenants supposed to live?  

There is no existing tenant at Thorneythwaite Farm, so no-one is being displaced as part of this sale. The Trust is currently discussing management arrangements with a number of National Trust agricultural tenants from within the Borrowdale valley, following a number of expressions of interest to help us manage the land.

What would Beatrix Potter think? 

The Trust believes in the upholding the cultural legacy of the pastoral landscape and share Beatrix Potter’s love and passion for the Lake District.

However, we also recognise that world has changed, and will keep on changing. The way we maintain those traditions must therefore also change and adapt with it.

 

National Trust statement on releasing land for housing

We are not against development in principle, to the contrary we are for good development. We have always supported good quality housing built in the right place as identified in local plans and which meets our planning principles.

Working with the local planning system to make good choices for the location and design of development is absolutely essential. That is why we want to ensure the planning system is well resourced and effective – so that everyone benefits.

When we very occasionally release land for development we aim to use it as an opportunity to showcase what good housing can look like.

We only sell land for development when we are completely satisfied that any proposed scheme passes a rigorous set of design and environmental standards we apply as part of our decision-making process. The proposed development at Pyrland north of Taunton is a good example of this.

On our land at Pyrland, we propose to set aside a large proportion of green space for the residents of the new homes and those already living nearby. Proposals include footpaths, cycleways, community allotments, orchards and conservation areas. We are also proposing that the historic parkland landscape at Pyrland is restored and made accessible to the public for the first time.

The land at Pyrland was left to the Trust by John Adams who gave it at the same time that he gave us Fyne Court. It was his wish that we would sell this land to raise funds to look after Fyne Court and other special places in our care in Somerset. As always, we have ensured that the sale and development of the land complies with the wishes of the donor who gave it to us.

The vast majority of our land is held forever, for everyone. Housing development takes place on only a tiny fraction of our land.  Less than 0.01% is currently allocated for housing in local plans and proposed for development by the Trust. The proceeds from this goes straight back into our conservation work.

 

 

Trust welcomes record numbers of visitors

We welcomed record numbers of visitors to our houses and gardens last year (21m), up 4% on the previous year. An estimated 200m visits were also made to our countryside and coast locations. Interest remains as high as ever.

Our latest membership scores also show satisfaction is at an all-time high. And our membership has grown to over 4.2m members.

The overall proportion of visitors rating their experience of the Trust as either ‘enjoyable’ or ‘very enjoyable is 96%. This reflects very high levels of satisfaction and is broadly in line with previous years.

The picture is very positive and we’re proud more people than ever before are visiting our special places and supporting our charity.

But we recognise there is always room for improvement. We’re not complacent and as we outlined in our 10-year strategy earlier this year we know we need to do even more to engage with people and make our places relevant and inspiring to them.

The proportion of people rating their experience as ‘very enjoyable’ has fallen slightly to 60%, which is below the stretching target we set ourselves.

We believe there are a number of reasons for the fall.  We have developed a new system whereby members can provide feedback online . This has nearly doubled the number of visitor surveys we collect (some 170,000) so we now have a much more accurate picture than we have ever had before and know where we need to improve.

At peak times properties can get busy and this can have an impact on attaining the very highest enjoyment scores.

People’s tastes are changing and their expectations continue to grow. We’ll work harder to give our visitors experiences that are emotionally rewarding, intellectually stimulating and inspire them to support our cause. We will invest in major changes at our most visited houses to transform how we tell the story of why they matter.

We’re not standing still. Many properties are already finding new and imaginative ways to refresh their offer, and where we get it right the results have been spectacular both in terms of visitor numbers and enjoyment scores.

Our recreation of a First World War hospital at Dunham Massey made it to the final of this year’s Museum of the Year; our Mr.Turner exhibition at Petworth was a huge hit, and Fan Bay tunnels in Dover have consistently sold out of tickets every day since it opened earlier this year.

And we’re continuing to challenge perceptions and stir up debate, most recently on brutalist architecture.

Trust launches consultation on proposed changes to final salary pension scheme

The National Trust has today (Monday 9 March 2015) begun formal negotiations on the proposed closure of its defined pension scheme to future accrual on 31 March 2016.

Consultation on the closure of the National Trust Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme will last for 60 days, to ensure staff have plenty of time to contribute their views. Negotiations will be made through the Trust’s recognised trade union Prospect.

Following our most recent valuation it is likely that the scheme will show a deficit of £116m (as at 5 April 2014).

This increased from £69m since our last three-year valuation in 2011.   We have therefore agreed in principle with the pension scheme trustees to significantly increase our deficit recovery payments from £3m a year now to £8.5m a year from 2016.  This will increase by CPI+1% year on year until 2029.   

We have maintained the scheme for as long as possible through good financial management.  However, we have made these proposals now because we feel we can no longer sustain the level of cost and risk associated with providing a defined benefit pension scheme without it impacting on our ability to fulfil our core purpose of looking after thousands of special places on behalf of the nation forever, for everyone. 

The defined benefit scheme closed to new entrants in 2003 and therefore the proposed changes would impact around 1,200 members of staff or approximately 16% of our permanent workforce. 

Should the proposals be adopted, members of staff would join 2,500 colleagues in our defined contributions scheme from 1 April 2016.  In this scheme we would match any contributions they make between 4% and 10%. We feel this represents a good pension scheme for a charity and would ensure greater parity of benefit across our whole workforce. 

These proposed changes do not impact on the benefits of existing pensioners or deferred members of the defined benefit scheme.

The decision to make these proposals has not been easy and one which we have deliberated over for some time.  However, we believe that the steps we are proposing to take will not only secure employees’ accrued benefits but also provide greater financial stability for the Trust in the long term.

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Housing developers ‘gaming’ the planning system to get new estates built in countryside

Developers are ‘gaming’ the planning system to get applications approved for lucrative new housing estates in the countryside – even in areas where councils had plans in place to meet housing needs in other locations,  new research by the National Trust has revealed.

The conservation charity found flaws in the government’s planning rules were being exploited by developers to get homes built on green-field sites even though local authorities had never intended them to be built on.

The National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) was introduced two years ago to boost development and tackle the housing crisis by cutting red tape. At the time ministers pledged that local communities would be given a greater say over planning rules and decisions on new development. New local plans would be ‘sovereign.’

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Chairman Simon Jenkins’ farewell speech at the Trust’s AGM

WELCOME to Swindon. This has been a good six years in the history of the Trust. We are in excellent shape, the money sound and the membership rising.

You know the figures: membership through 4m, visits to properties through 20m and visits to our wider estate approaching 200m. Our operating surplus has risen by a third, enabling us to spend record sums on conservation, our prime responsibility.

Acquisitions have slowed, but we have taken on Vanbrugh’s mighty Seaton Delaval, Tredegar and Dyffryn in south Wales, Lord Nuffield’s eccentric lodge outside Henley, Arts and Crafts at Stoneywell and the delightful Asalache house (575 Wandsworth Road). We have acquired the last white cliff of Dover and the exquisite Llyn Dinas under Snowdon.

As chairman I can do nothing alone. I want to pay a tribute to my board who have been committed and loyal throughout what have been years of change. I want to pay particular thanks to my deputy Charles Gurassa, who must have broken all records for length of service. And to our new Director General Helen Ghosh who will address you shortly. I also want to thank the staff. We have the best staff in the charity sector.

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