CHIEF EXECUTIVE, NATIONAL TRUST FOR SCOTLAND
Sally Mapstone, President of the Saltire Society, Simon Skinner, Chief Executive of the National Trust for Scotland, Helen Cartwright
A child of the 1930s like the Saltire Society, the National Trust for Scotland’s (NTS) purpose is to protect and promote access and enjoyment of Scotland’s heritage. The heritage of Scotland already in its care takes many forms, from the 90+ buildings it cares for to the eight national nature reserves it protects, the 100,000 plants in its collection, the 38 visited gardens it maintains, the 11,000 archaeological sites it protects, the 300,000 artefacts it preserves and the 76,000 hectares of landscape it looks after.
From “coastlines to castles, art to architecture, wildlife to wilderness” no other charity or government agency has this depth and range of heritage responsibility. With a membership of just under 400,000 members it is the largest heritage charity in Scotland and one of the largest in the UK.
Asked to speak about his vision for the NTS, Simon envisaged a future state where “Scotland’s heritage is valued by everyone and protected, now and for future generations”. In setting out this vision he was keen to emphasise this was a vision for Scotland’s heritage and not limited to the properties ( built and natural ) in the NTS’s care. To that end he noted the NTS had to widen its appeal and relevance beyond the 4% of the population who were already members and beyond its typical membership demographic of the elderly and young families. To achieve this the NTS had to change attitudes and transform the way the people of Scotland respond to the NTS.
He then went on to outline some of the steps already taken by the NTS and those planned in its current five year strategy entitled For the Love of Scotland, that were designed to move the NTS towards making this vision a reality. One of the key challenges to delivering the vision is the lack of engagement with ‘young’ people. Having sought their views it became apparent they did not see the Trust as a charity, but rather a well-funded arm of government ( the truth is far different with less than 4% of the Trust’s £60m operating costs coming from government). They also thought of the Trust as “stuffy, staid and all about castles, not countryside.” In fact as the third largest landowner in Scotland, including some of the most iconic places such as Glencoe, Ben Lawers , Ben Lomond, Kintail, Staffa, St Kilda and Scotland’s largest nature reserve, Mar Lodge, protection of and working with nature and the natural environment are already high on the Trust's agenda. The next step is to consider how the Trust breaks down the barriers to visitation by the young and how to project a different image, one that better resonates with this sector of the population.
Simon then showed a video clip of the NTS’s For the Love of Scotland TV campaign (a three minute TV advertisement, endorsed by many of Scotland’s best known and loved personalities that aired in the spring of last year and which explored the things we ‘hate’ and ‘love’ about Scotland; the takeaway being that many, if not most, of the things people love about Scotland, including landscape are in the NTS’s care). The next phase of the Trust’s strategy is to direct people to visit and experience the things they love.
Simon noted that between 2007 and 2015 there had been a steady decline in visitation to the Trust and that to reverse this trend the Trust had invested circa £11m in building new attractions, restructuring around six regions - bringing decisioning closer to the properties - and introducing new commercial competencies to manage the capital spend and increase income from catering, retail and conversion to membership. These interventions had been successful and the new strategy, launched last year, commits to build on this model with a further £57 million pledged for investment in the building of new attractions and improving the condition of the heritage in its care.
Simon then talked through the ‘connected thinking’ behind the published strategy targets - e.g. to increase annual visitor numbers from 3 million to 5 million, to build membership from just under 400,000 to 500,00, to increase donations from £1.2m to £10m and to create active learning experiences from 80, 000 to over 100,000. Simon explained that these headline outcomes corresponded to four strategic objectives: to ‘protect’ and care for Scotland’s heritage; to provide opportunities for everyone to ‘experience’ and value heritage; to ‘promote’ the benefits of heritage conservation; and to create an efficient and sustainable business which ‘supports’ its conservation needs
He also noted an internal target to move the Trust to a point where its operational income and membership income matches its operational expenditure - i.e releasing circa £14m of income from its investments, donations and legacies, which currently balance the books, to help take forward the vision.
Simon concluded his talk by sharing with the audience four key developments that would hopefully be coming on stream in time for Easter and which he hoped illustrated the strategy in action:
The ‘Big Box’ – the encasement of the Hill House in a protective mesh designed to keep the water out and allow the building to breathe /dry out . With walkways around, over and above the house but within the protective mesh, the public would be encouraged to come and see conservation in action and engage in the debate about how best to preserve this house and its collection.
The ‘Window on the World’ – a new viewing tower at Inverewe Gardens, for the first time linking the upper trail with the lower garden footpath. This tower will provide unprecedented views over the woodland canopy and out to the open sea.
Brodick Castle and ‘Isle be Wild’ play park – after being closed for two years the castle and its collection will be re-opened to the public, with new and exciting interpretation on the collection and a new play park for the adventurous and young.
Glencoe Visitor Centre – a refurbished stopping point in the valley, with new interpretation and vastly improved retail and catering offers.
Simon concluded by thanking everyone for their attention and expressed a hope that he had, through his presentation, gone some way to showing why his charity was worthy of support.