Harry Mount

How the National Trust’s new leader can restore trust

(Getty images)

The National Trust has, thank God, appointed a new chairman. What can he do to restore trust in an organisation that has so catastrophically dumbed down and become so woefully political in recent years?

Rene Olivieri is an American-born former publishing executive. He has been interim chairman of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the RSPCA and the Wildlife Trusts and is a board member of the government’s Culture Recovery Fund. His statement on being appointed had a few subtle, encouraging signs that he might stop the dumbing-down, politicising rot.

Olivieri said: 

‘As a charity and national institution with a 126-year history, it’s uniquely placed to recognise the debt to the generations that have gone before and its responsibility to those which follow.’

That seems to show that he understands his job: to preserve the extraordinary houses, collections and landscapes the National Trust owns. The job is easy to define – but hard to carry out when, for 20 years, the Trust has done its best to dumb down its houses and run its disastrous political campaigns.

Olivieri should remove any sign that isn’t absolutely crucial in telling you the history of a property

Here’s what Olivieri can do to return the National Trust to the wonderful organisation it was for the first century of its existence.

First, he should visit one National Trust property every day. At each one, he should tear down any sign or remove any literature with spelling mistakes in it. At Hughenden House, Buckinghamshire, the home of the great Benjamin Disraeli, they even managed to get the spelling of his father’s name wrong.

While he’s at each property, he can also remove any signs with kiddy language in them. A tree stump at Hughenden has a sign next to it, saying, ‘Please do not climb on me’.

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