National Trust 'open to debate' after pressure group attracts thousands of members

The newly-formed Restore Trust says it wants the charity to 'regain the nation's trust' after the publication of a controversial report detailing historic connections between some of its properties and slavery

A sign outside Chastleton House in the Cotswolds (Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images)
A sign outside Chastleton House in the Cotswolds (Photograph: Tim Graham/Getty Images)

The National Trust said it is open to debate its shared history after a new pressure group attracted thousands of members in an attempt to force the charity to “regain the nation’s trust”.

The Restore Trust said it was a grassroots movement of 6,100 current and former members that was set up following a report the charity published in September that showed connections between 93 of its historic places and colonialism and historic slavery.

The research sparked fierce debate on social media about the charity’s work and caused the Charity Commission to open a compliance case into the National Trust.

But in March the regulator found that there was “no grounds for regulatory action”.

Despite the commission’s findings, the Restore Trust said it would like to see the charity get back to what the pressure group called its “real mission”.

The group said its members were concerned about the criticism that the National Trust had attracted from the Charity Commission, the media, MPs and peers for appearing to take sides on divisive issues and withdraw from its role as a custodian of heritage.

Its aim is to question the direction the National Trust is taking and engage with the charity’s leadership in an open discussion about its work.

The group said it would like to focus on maintaining high standards in the care of houses, gardens and countryside, promoting democracy and inclusivity in its governance and listening to members’ views.

Third Sector revealed in November that just three complaints have been made to the regulator about the National Trust’s work and purpose since it published its controversial report. 

In addition, the National Trust said it had received 771 complaints from a total of 5.6 million members.

A National Trust spokesperson said: “The places in our care are part of our shared history and we hope this can be debated openly and without rancour.

"We remain focused on caring for coast and countryside and for more than a million historic objects and hundreds of spectacular houses, gardens and other sites.

“Our priority at the moment is ensuring millions of people can visit safely and it is a joy to see families and old friends being reunited at the places we care for.

"The trust has a long history of open and constructive debate with our members and donors. We are grateful for their continued support during unprecedented times.”

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