National Trust faces backlash over 'gimmicky' contemporary collections

24 October 2021, 15:17 | Updated: 24 October 2021, 15:38

Staff at Attingham Park have come under fire from Restore Trust for creating a "party" theme in the dining room.
Staff at Attingham Park have come under fire from Restore Trust for creating a "party" theme in the dining room. Picture: Alamy

By Elizabeth Haigh

The National Trust is facing backlash over "nonsensical" and "gimmicky" installations in its houses and gardens by a group formed amid allegations of a 'woke' political agenda.

Restore Trust, an organisation set up in April for "members, supporters and friends of the National Trust" to "discuss their concerns about the future of the charity" has criticised recent decisions and claims the National Trust is "demonizing" history.

A statement from Restore Trust's website details the group's concerns, including that presentation at some National Trust venues has been "trivialized, by nonsensical rearrangements of the collections or intrusive additions" and by "gimmicky and patronizing signage".

The claim that at property Attingham Park the "glorious" dining room has been "despoiled" by pizza boxes, fizzy drinks cans, sweet packets, and a glitter ball.

They also criticise "a new ‘visitor experience’" at Stourhead which consists of "a huge white cube covered in apparently random objects [that] dominates the Hall and pompously invites us to consider the significance of such objects as ‘your favourite coffee mug’ and ‘that pot plant’."

The statement continues: "rooms beyond are peppered with white draped tables and further banal ‘interpretation’ (with no relevance to the house or its collections)."

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Restore Trust was founded this year in the wake of backlash against the National Trust's recognition of its sites' links with colonialism.

The organisation criticised the National Trust and states their aim to "restore a sense of welcome for all visitors without demonizing anyone's history or heritage" and "to use history responsibly as a tool for understanding, not as a weapon."

They have three resolutions which they intend to raise at the National Trust AGM concerning pay, volunteers and curation.

As well as calling for greater transparency over the pay of senior staff and better treatment and conditions for its volunteers, Restore Trust criticises the trust for "violating its charitable purposes" and giving into "incongruous advertising".

The group claims that the National Trust is prioritising visitor numbers over proper curation, saying it is operating as a "commercial tourist organization rather than a charity".

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Meanwhile visitors to the properties have also raised concerns about the modernisation of the visitor experience.

One visitor to Attingham Park wrote on Tripadvisor: "The NT seem to have decided that the place needs a ‘modern twist’ to be interesting by having a party theme in the rooms: blow up guitars and party hats on statues and modern snack food detritus scattered around the dining room.

"Sorry, but we just didn’t get it. It added nothing to the experience and in parts (especially the dining room) was a complete distraction."

Restore Trust also criticised modern adaptations such as writing on blinds in old manor houses such as Hughenden Manor.

A National Trust spokesperson told LBC: "Our houses, collections and gardens are as important to us as they have always been.

"Each year, on average, about 75% of our conservation budget is spent on houses, collections and gardens, with the remainder (25%) going towards coast and countryside."

The spokesperson added the National Trust has doubled the number of curators it has over the last five years to 106, and their most significant houses now have a dedicated property curator who helps manage the property.

They said the Trust also has "a team of 16 specialist National Curators support areas including architectural history, pictures and sculpture, decorative arts, books and libraries, and dress and textiles."