Helen Ghosh takes over as National Trust Director-General

The National Trust’s new Director-General, Dame Helen Ghosh, spent her first day yesterday (Monday 12 November) meeting staff, volunteers and visitors at Chirk Castle and Powis Castle & Gardens in Wales.

She is embarking on a ‘listening tour’ of National Trust places where she’ll meet people involved at all different levels of the organisation to build her understanding of how the charity works.

Dame Helen Ghosh, Day 1 at Chirk Castle

“At both Chirk and Powis castles I found fantastic, energetic people,” said Helen. “It reminded me that this wonderful mosaic of staff, volunteers and visitors is what makes the Trust what it is.”

She takes over from Dame Fiona Reynolds who stepped down on Saturday (10 November) at the National Trust AGM after 12 years leading the organisation.


National Trust members say farewell to Dame Fiona

Dame Fiona Reynolds stepped down as Director-General of the National Trust this Saturday (10 November) as 600 members gathered in Swindon for the charity’s AGM.

She leaves the National Trust after 11 years in charge, during which time she has increased membership from 2.7 to 4 million, guided the charity to financial solvency and reconnected the organisation with its original founding purpose.

Fiona is leaving to become Master of Emmanuel College at the University of Cambridge in the autumn of 2013, where she will be the first woman to be elected Master in the College’s history.

Fiona said: “I have loved every minute leading the National Trust and working with our passionate and dedicated staff, volunteers and supporters. 

“I am incredibly proud of all that we have achieved in the last 11 years. 

“There is no organisation like it and I will miss it terribly.  But it is time to allow someone else an opportunity to make their mark.”

Simon Jenkins, National Trust Chairman, said: “Fiona has presided over a triumphant era in the history of the National Trust.

“Her strategic vision and personal leadership have made it one of Britain’s most popular institutions.

“She guided us with panache, first to financial solvency and then to four million members. We shall miss her, and wish her every success in the future.”


 Notes to Editors:

Biopic of Dame Fiona Reynolds DBE, Director-General of the National Trust (2001-2012)

Fiona Reynolds was born on 29 March 1958 in Alston, Cumbria. She attended Rugby High School for Girls (1969-76) before going to Newnham College, Cambridge University, where she studied Geography and Land Economy (1976-79) before completing an MPhil in Land Economy, also at Cambridge (1980-81).

Before joining the Trust as Director-General, Fiona was previously Director of the Women’s Unit in the Cabinet Office (1998-2000), Director of the Council for the Protection of Rural England (CPRE) (1992-98), Assistant Director (Policy) at CPRE (1987-92), and Secretary to the Council for National Parks (1980-1987).

She married Robert Merrill – who runs the local Riding for the Disabled group – in 1981. They have three daughters and live near Cirencester in Gloucestershire. Her favourite ways to relax are walking, cycling, reading and listening to classical music.

Fiona was awarded the CBE for “services to the environment and conservation” in 1998 and was appointed DBE in 2008 for “services to heritage and conservation”.

National Trust

Fiona was involved with the Trust for many years prior to becoming Director-General, as a member of the Trust’s Council, the Thames and Chilterns regional committee, and chairing the local committee for Sutton House in Hackney.

She became Director-General of the National Trust in January 2001. Since then, she has overseen a period of transformational change at the National Trust, reconnecting the organisation with its original founding purpose and infusing it with warmth and liveliness. 

From her earliest days at the Trust, Fiona pioneered an ‘arms open’ approach to conservation, bringing expert work out from behind closed doors to take place in front of visitors, now an integral part of the Trust’s programme to bring places to life. 

She has overseen a restructure of the governance of the charity, from a 52-member Council to a 12-member Board of Trustees, as well as two major internal restructures which have strengthened and localised the organisation. This included bringing all of the Trust’s central office teams under one roof – the purpose-built and award-winning Heelis in Swindon – which remains one of Europe’s most environmentally-friendly office buildings.

She also led a series of financial reforms that took the Trust from a vulnerable financial position to one of security to meet the recession in 2008.  The Trust now spends over £100 million a year on conservation work.

Over this period:

  • Membership has grown from 2.7 million in 2001 to more than four million in 2011.
  • Visitor numbers to the Trust’s 300 properties reached 19 million from 10 million a decade ago. 
  • Volunteer numbers have also doubled, with more than 67,000 people giving their time to special places last year. 

As a geographer and walker with a passionate interest in landscape, she has systematically added to the 617,000 acres of countryside under the Trust’s care. Most recently, this included the acquisition of the 617-acre Llyndy Isaf estate near Snowdon after a public appeal raised £1 million in seven months from 20,000 donors.

Property acquisitions over the last 11 years have included the vast Victorian Gothic Tyntesfield and its estate near Bristol, Vanbrugh’s Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland, the ‘back-to-back’ terraced houses in Birmingham, John Lennon’s boyhood home in Liverpool and the quirky home of Kenyan-born poet Khadambi Asalache in Wandsworth. 

These acquisitions have been part of a concerted focus on social and community relevance for the Trust, recently underlined by the long-term lease taken out on Tredegar House in South East Wales.

During her time as Director-General, Fiona has championed the importance of access to the outdoors and nature for people’s wellbeing and promoted local and seasonal food with a drive to create 1,000 new allotments on National Trust land. 

In 2012 she launched the Trust’s Natural Childhood report and ’50 things to do before you’re 11 ¾’ campaign, which aim to reconnect children with nature and the outdoors. This echoes the vision of the Trust’s founders, in particular the Victorian social campaigner Octavia Hill, the centenary of whose death is marked this year.

While maintaining the Trust’s strict party-political neutrality, Fiona has also championed its conservation principles, most recently leading the charge against proposed changes to the planning framework which, she warned, would bias planning towards excessive building in the countryside. 

Her decision to step down as National Trust Director-General to become Master of Emmanuel College, University of Cambridge, was announced on Tuesday 6 March 2012.

Next steps

Fiona will become the first female Master in EmmanuelCollege’s history in the autumn of 2013, in succession to Lord Wilson of Dinton.

She became a Non-executive Director of the BBC on 1 January 2012, and was confirmed as the next Senior Independent Director on the broadcaster’s Executive Board on 18 September 2012.  She was also appointed a Non-executive Director on the Board of Wessex Water on 3 August 2012, and will Chair the company’s sustainability panel.

Fiona plans to use the interval between leaving and moving to Cambridge in September 2013 to write a book about her years at the Trust.

Other information

Appearing on the BBC’s Desert Island Discs in April 2002, Fiona’s choice of music was:

  • the Mingulay Boat Song, performed by Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor;
  • the Agnus Dei from Fauré’s Requiem;
  • Mozart’s Divertimento in D Major;
  • Mendelssohn’s Octet;
  • Robert Speaight reading from Wordsworth’s Lines composed above Tintern Abbey;
  • The Salutation from Gerald Finzi’s Dies Natalis;
  • Maria Tipo playing the Adagio from Bach/Busoni’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major; and
  • Oh! Hang at open doors the net from Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

 If she could take just one record it would be the Finzi; her book was The Making of the English Landscape by W G Hoskins and her luxury a full set of Ordnance Survey maps of the British Isles.

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 720 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Nation rallies to safeguard iconic white cliffs of Dover

A £1.2 million appeal launched by the National Trust in the summer to raise funds to acquire the iconic stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover coastline has reached its target in just 133 days, raising an average of £9,000 per day.

The Trust needed the money to buy a 0.8 mile stretch of this world-famous and much-loved piece of the Kent coastline overlooking the port.

It completes the missing link of coastline under National Trust care, uniting a stretch of more than 7km (nearly 5 miles) between the Trust’s visitor centre and South Foreland Lighthouse.

More than 16,000 people and organisations [1] have supported the appeal which was launched in June 2012 with an average donation of £40.21 (including Gift Aid) from members of the public.

Hundreds of messages of support were posted on a virtual White Cliffs of Dover on the charity’s website [2].

Donations included a significant contribution from the Dover Harbour Board, which helped the Trust to reach its target earlier than had been anticipated, and support from the Regatta Foundation, Royal Oak Foundation and 16 National Trust supporter groups.

The fundraising drive was given a boost in July when a number of household names including Dame Vera Lynn, Dame Judi Dench and the soul singing sensation and Dover-born Joss Stone gave their support.

Writer and philosopher Julian Baggini spent a week in August at the White Cliffs in Dover looking into how they have come to symbolise what they mean for our national identity [3].

Fiona Reynolds, who is in her final week as Director-General at the National Trust, said: “Thanks to the generosity and support of thousands of people we’ve reached our target nearly two months early.

“This appeal has tapped into something unique – the emotional connection that people have with special places such as the White Cliffs of Dover.

“The Trust will now look to enhance the quality of access to this new land and build on some of the fantastic nature conservation work that has been carried out by the team on the ground.”

Standing proud at over 110 metres (taller than Big Ben or the same height as twenty-five London buses stacked on top of each other), the White Cliffs of Dover have witnessed many dramatic moments in England’s history.

These include the arrival of the Romans and the welcome return of British armed forces after the evacuation of Dunkirk during the Second World War.

The cliffs are also home to a rich array of wildlife including the Adonis blue butterfly, rare coastal plants such as oxtongue broomrape and sea carrot, and birds including skylark, the only pair of breeding ravens in Kent and peregrine falcons.

Alison Burnett, a volunteer on the White Cliffs of Dover team, added: “There has been a real buzz around the appeal with this once in a lifetime opportunity to add the missing piece of the White Cliffs so that they are in the care of the National Trust.

“This chalky stretch of coastline symbolises so much for so many people and it’s wonderful to think that we’ve managed to raise the money so that future generations can enjoy all that this unique place has to offer.”

Across England, Wales and Northern Ireland the National Trust looks after more than 720 miles of coastline. The Trust acquired its first stretch of the White Cliffs of Dover in 1968.

Hundreds of thousands of people come to visit the dramatic chalk cliffs every year with their wonderful views across the English Channel.

Octavia Hill honoured at Westminster Abbey – Fiona Reynolds’ address

Towards the end of her life, Octavia Hill wrote:

“New circumstances require various efforts; and it is the spirit, not the dead form, that should be perpetuated. When the time comes that we slip from our places, and they are called to the front as leaders, what should they inherit from us? … We shall leave them a few houses, purified and improved, a few new and better ones built, a certain record of thoughtful and loving management, a few open spaces, some of which will be more beautiful than they would have been; but what we care most to leave them is not any tangible thing, however great, not any memory, however good, but the quick eye to see, the true soul to measure, the large hope to grasp the mighty issues of the new and better days to come—greater ideals greater hope, and patience to realise both”.

Today we are celebrating beauty: the wonder of creation, and the impact – for good and ill – of humanity on that inheritance. We are doing so through the eyes of Octavia Hill, whom we are honouring today: an extraordinary woman by any standards but particularly of her time; a social reformer and housing pioneer whose efforts led, with others, to the establishment of the National Trust. And so finally we are celebrating the work of the Trust – past, present and future.

Joining us today are many people whose life and work has been carried out in the light cast by Octavia’s vision and ambitions. You are all welcome.

Above all, beauty is our theme. Beauty in space and time, beauty as an idea, and beauty as a human and spiritual necessity.

Beauty mattered to Octavia Hill. “We all want beauty for the refreshment of our souls” – that powerful line read by Simon Jenkins from Space for the People. She saw access to beauty as a basic human need, as important to people’s lives as a roof over their heads and enough to eat. Beauty – in Octavia an intuitive sense, sharpened by her association with Ruskin, drove her life forward.

All the more interesting then is the modesty and humility apparent in the remarks with which I opened. Surely she undersells her achievement when she talks about leaving behind a “few open spaces” and “a few newer and better” houses? She certainly undersells her legacy.

Present here are representatives from the social housing movement that traces its roots to Octavia Hill. Today, over 1200 housing associations provide affordable, quality homes for five million people.

Here also are representatives from the conservation movement and especially from the National Trust which Octavia Hill founded in 1895 with fellow reformers Sir Robert Hunter and Canon Hardwicke Rawnsley.

The National Trust today has four million members and 67,000 volunteers. We care for 630,000 acres of beautiful coast and countryside, more than 300 beautiful and historic buildings, hundreds of gardens (many of whom have provided the beautiful decorations for the Abbey today) and innumerable sites of natural and historic significance.

From the first – Dinas Oleu, the four and a half acres above Barmouth that I visited last week – to Stoneywell, the arts and crafts cottage which is our most recent acquisition, they are all inspiring and important places. And we are but a part of a rich tapestry of conservation and heritage organisations active throughout the United Kingdom and the world, many inspired by Octavia’s vision. So she left behind more than ‘a few’.

But the point of Octavia Hill’s message is clear. It is not the things that matter most, not the organisations or the associations. It is what those organisations and individuals achieved: the green belt in place, the right of access to the countryside secured. And, of course, the houses, the land and property bought and protected for ever. But she was saying something more.

What matters most, she was saying, is that the spirit which guided those activities lives on. The spirit that inspired Octavia and others to find the right solutions for the right moment, which may – but may not – be the same as the actions we need to take now to ensure future generations have the opportunities Octavia strove for. What matters most is what we find in our consciences and in our hearts – the way we honour the principles she stood for rather than copy what she did.

Circumstances change, she says. Meet them with the same spirit: with good judgement, with truth, and with hope.

And so it is to Octavia’s conscience and beliefs that we look for inspiration – beliefs derived from the radical reformers of her childhood, the inspiration of Christian socialist F D Maurice and her study of Ruskin’s ideals.

So, at this moment, as we commemorate her life and celebrate her legacy, we have a new duty to consider. Do we think enough about why we do things as well as what we do? What are the mighty issues facing society today? Do we, I wonder, grasp them with ever greater hope and ever greater ideals, rising to new circumstances with renewed effort?
And when the time comes that we too slip from our places and a new generation takes our place, will we have done enough to ensure that what we leave behind is sufficient in spirit and philosophy; and sufficient in belief in the power of beauty, history, nature, equality and justice.

And if that sounds daunting, we can, at the last, look again to Octavia Hill for guidance. Meet the future with judgement, truth and hope: with a quick eye, a true soul and greater ideals, hope for the new and better days to come, and the patience to realise them. Octavia Hill: we honour, thank and remember you.

National Trust team wins top PR Award

The Swindon-based Media & External Affairs team of the National Trust was named In-House Team of the Year at the 2012 PRWeek Awards, announced in London on Tuesday.

Beating stiff competition from the Alzheimer’s Society, easyJet, McDonald’s UK and VisitScotland, the 16-strong team came away with the prestigious PR Week Gold Award.

The judges were particularly impressed with the Trust’s communications strategy based on standing up for its cause and helping people – particularly young people – discover the beauty of special places.

Last year, the team’s efforts helped achieve a record increase in visitor and membership numbers – with membership of the charity reaching four million and more than 19 million visitor going to the charity’s pay for entry properties.

The focus around core campaigns – Planning for People, Time well Spent and Growing Love for Nature and the Outdoors – was also a big factor in the judges decision.  These campaigns were amplified throughout the country with support from the Trust’s eight regional hubs to maximum effect.

Lead judge, PepsiCo’s director of corporate affairs Sally McCombie, said of the team: “It had a creative and original set of initiatives, which were tied directly back to the strategic objective to broaden its audience demographic, presented by a passionate and united team.”

The charity’s ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 and three quarters’ campaign, was also highly commended in the PRWeek Awards Not For Profit category.

It also won a PRWeek Award in the Marcomms under £100k category together with its agency Mischief PR for its partnership with The Beano to produce a special Gnashional Trust edition which hit news stands in July 2011.

Daniel Dodd, media and external affairs director at the National Trust, said: “We are delighted to win this award.  It’s been an incredible year where we’ve worked hard to really connect with our audiences.

“The award is a tribute to the way the whole organisation got behind our campaign on planning.  It also reflects our success in appealing to new audiences, particularly families, through the wonderful 50 things initiative and the tie up with the Beano.”

Fiona Reynolds, director-general at the National Trust, said: “It has been a busy year for the Trust, with our ‘Planning for People’ campaign, ‘50 things to do before you’re 11 and ¾’ and our very own issue of the Beano being among the highlights.  The team has performed spectacularly well and should be very proud, as we are of them all.”

Getting kids into nature starts at home, inquiry finds

Parents need more support to make the outdoors a part of everyday family life if we’re to avoid rearing a generation completely cut off from the natural world, an inquiry by the National Trust has found.

The Natural Childhood Inquiry – which sought submissions from experts and the public on the barriers and the solutions for children’s connection with nature – found that children’s love of nature is best started in the home. The Inquiry follows on from a report for the National Trust by award winning nature author and wildlife TV producer Stephen Moss, published in March, which documented children’s declining connection with the outdoors and nature.

Inquiry respondents said parents need more accessible child and family-friendly green and natural spaces and that opportunities for children to access and enjoy nature need to be promoted in a more joined-up fashion, and in ways that appeal more to families and children.

Much more could be made of the smaller everyday opportunities for children to play outdoors close to home to connect with nature on their doorstep and parents should look to draw more on networks of family and friends, especially grandparents, to help share the load of their children getting outdoors more.

Time learning and playing outdoors also needs to become a bigger element of the typical school day.

Fiona Reynolds, Director-General of the National Trust, said: “It is clear from the huge public response that our Natural Childhood report struck a chord with the nation.

“Parents want their children to have a better connection with nature, but they don’t feel completely confident in how to make that happen in a safe and stimulating way.

“Our inquiry showed that there is widespread agreement that this is an important issue and that now is the time to act.  The worlds of conservation, government, education and child welfare need to work together with families and communities to find solutions.

“As an organisation founded on the principle that people need access to open spaces, the National Trust is bringing together leaders in all these fields to discuss how to tackle this issue together”.

The Inquiry however recognised that there were some big barriers to a closer relationship with nature. These include excessive health and safety rules, the rise of indoor entertainment competing for children’s time and attention, traffic dangers, over-stuffed school days, and the poor quality and accessibility of green and natural spaces in many communities.

Research with children and parents commissioned by the National Trust to accompany today’s publication of the inquiry findings strongly validates these conclusions.

A YouGov survey [1] of 419 UK parents of under 13s revealed that a range of parental fears and concerns could be preventing children from getting the most of the outdoors.

Stranger danger (37%), lack of safe nearby outdoor places to play (25%) and too much traffic (21%) were the top ranked barriers amongst parents of children aged 12 or under.

Just short of half (45 per cent) of parents of pre-teens identified ‘more local safe places to play’ as the thing which would most encourage them to let their children get outdoors and explore more where they lived.  The other two top solutions supported by parents were ‘more supervised play spaces’ (32%) and ‘more activities organised by schools or youth groups’ (31%).

Qualitative research by Children’s research specialists Childwise found that children also express concerns about safety, often picked up from their parents, around issues such as traffic risks, perceptions that activities such as climbing trees being seen as too risky, or anxious parents reinforcing messages around the outdoors being dangerous such as “don’t go out in the rain in case you slip or catch a cold”.

Tim Gill, author of Rethinking Childhood and leading expert on childhood and risk, and a speaker at the summit, said: “It’s perfectly natural for parents to want to protect their children. But it’s also a simple fact that children can only become confident and capable adults if they are allowed to take some responsibility for themselves as they grow up.

“When children play outdoors and in nature, they have adventures and challenges that prepare them for the everyday ups and downs of life. At the same time, the risks that make many people anxious are often over-estimated.

“A more balanced, thoughtful approach is desperately needed. We have to start recognising the benefits of spending time out of doors, rather than just looking out for the risks.”

The National Trust are today (25 September) hosting a Natural Childhood Summit bringing together community leaders, charities, local government, corporate partners and academic experts to build consensus around action needed to give every child the opportunity to form a personal connection with the natural world.

The summit seeks to build a partnership which works to ensure that every child is given the opportunity to form a connection with nature before they reach 12 years of age [2]. But support from the public, policymakers and politicians is required to make that happen.

As part of its response to the lack of connection between kids and nature the National Trust launched its 50 Things to do before you’re 11 ¾’s campaign in May.  More than 250 Trust places took part and in the first two months more than 200,000 activity scrapbooks given away and nearly 20,000 users registered on the 50 Things website.


[1] The total sample size of the parents study, conducted by YouGov Plc., was 2072 adults of which 419 were parents of children aged 12 and under. Fieldwork was undertaken between 10th and 12th September.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).

[2] Current supporters of the Natural Childhood Summit and partners in the campaign are Arla Food, Britdoc, Green Lions, NHS Sustainable Development Unit, Play England, Play Wales and Playboard Northern Ireland.

David Pencheon, Director of the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, said:  “Developing communities sustainably is not just about carbon reduction and building design. It is also about the role of the natural environment in allowing a lifestyle that promotes health and wellbeing. Providing opportunities for children to be active and adventurous provides long term positive impacts for individuals and is an important part of reducing health problems in later life.”

Catherine Prisk, Director of Play England, said: More than ever we live in a hectic, pressurised world. Children need to be free of that, to have the time, space and freedom to play out, to make friends, explore their world, have adventures big and small. If they don’t have freedom to play, think of the consequences for their health, the way they relate to people and their community, and most of all the consequences to their happiness.

Jacqueline O’Loughlin, Chief Executive of Playboard NI, said: “The demise of outdoor play and the growth of more screen based sedentary activities is fast becoming a major contributor of health problems in childhood.  Those of us whom work with children know that children are biologically predisposed to create, explore and manipulate their play environment; therefore we need to do more to get children outside playing in natural surroundings. We need to reconnect children with nature.   Not only is this crucially important for children’s holistic development, the physical experience and social interaction enjoyed in playing outdoors also helps children gain an appreciation and respect for the natural world around them”.

Mike Greenway, Director of Play Wales, said: “It is natural for children to play outside in a natural environment. Not to play outside is by implication unnatural. The complexity that nature offers children cannot be replicated artificially. Any attempt to create a virtual alternative will be a poor imitation; and why would we want to? The natural environment provides the widest range of opportunities for play; play that facilitates physical and emotional development. Playing is how children find their place in the world, in time and space. As a species we have evolved outdoors. It is a no brainer! Children know they need to be outside, playing; when we ask them they tell us so. Why would we not want children to have a natural childhood? The fact that we are even having this debate is an indication that something in our society is wrong and needs fixing.”

The National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and hundreds of historic places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. For more information and ideas for great value family days out go to: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/

Dame Helen Ghosh named as next National Trust director-general

Dame Helen Ghosh DCB will be the next director-general of the National Trust, Europe’s largest conservation charity.

Helen joins the Trust from her current role as permanent secretary to the Home Office. Previously, Helen held a variety of civil service roles including as permanent secretary to Defra between 2005 and 2010.

She will take over from Fiona Reynolds who has been at the helm for nearly 12 years. During that time, Fiona has grown the charity’s membership to four million and built a volunteer base of more than 67,000 people.

Credit 'Crown Copyright'

Helen said:  “I have been an admirer of the Trust and its work all my life, and I am thrilled that I have been given the chance to be part of its future.  I am delighted to be able to build on Fiona Reynolds’ great work in setting the Trust’s direction for the 21st century”.

Simon Jenkins, chairman of the National Trust, said: “The Board of Trustees is delighted that Helen will be the Trust’s next director-general. The Trustees’ strategy is to widen the Trust’s appeal and grow its membership. Helen is a distinguished and energetic public servant. We are convinced she is ideal to lead the organisation through what is proving a challenging time. We all look forward to working with her”.

Fiona Reynolds, who moves on to become Master of Emmanuel College, Cambridge in 2013, said “I am delighted by Helen’s appointment.  The National Trust is a fantastic organisation to work for and I wish her, and the Trust, all the very best for the future”.

The National Trust was founded in 1895 to protect threatened coastline, countryside and buildings for the benefit and enjoyment of everyone.

Today the Trust employs more than 5,500 people and cares for special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, including 250,000 hectares of countryside, 710 miles of coastline and 300 historic houses and gardens.