The National Trust: a cultural battleground

Critics believe it has become too ‘woke’ and a rebel alliance has been formed

Winston Churchill’s former residence Chartwell, near Westerham in Kent
Winston Churchill’s home: indicted
(Image credit: Getty Images)

God help the National Trust, said The Guardian. Ever since it published a “sober” academic report last year, detailing its properties’ links to slavery and colonialism, it has become a battleground in a vicious “culture war”. The Trust’s critics believe it has become too “woke”, and should stick to looking after Britain’s historic homes and gardens. Restore Trust, a rebel alliance of 6,000 current and former National Trust members, has been formed, and is seeking to take six vacant seats on the charity’s council at its annual general meeting next week. The group, backed by right-wing Tory MPs and including one fundamentalist Christian lobbyist, claims that it wants to return the Trust to its founding principles. It is vital to see this for what it is: a small group of unrepresentative obsessives trying to “push a reactionary agenda”.

Actually, said Clare Foges in The Times, Restore Trust has a point. Many members have been irritated that volunteers have been told to wear lanyards to celebrate gay pride, and to complete diversity training, lest they be “inadvertently sexist while explaining the provenance of a Chippendale dresser”; and that school-children have been sent into Trust properties to “reverse-mentor” septuagenarian volunteers. Last year’s sloppy report was the last straw. It casually indicted various much-loved places of historical crimes: Wordsworth’s house, because his brother captained an East India Company ship; Winston Churchill’s home, Chartwell, for his opposition to Indian independence. The rebels were right to call this out.

The Trust has to move with “changing tastes and opinions”, said Simon Jenkins in The Guardian. There was no way it “could stand aloof from the debate over how to present controversial periods in British history”. Some of its houses, such as Speke Hall, were built on the proceeds of slavery. But it addressed the debate clumsily, giving the job to “a group of partisan academics talking a private language”. This needlessly provoked the anti-woke brigade. Nevertheless, with members now nearing six million, the Trust is in sound health. “It will get over this latest dust-up – and learn.”

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