Pandemic caused National Trust to cut almost 1,800 jobs last year

The charity lost £173m compared with the previous year as its properties were closed and events cancelled

Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire last year (Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Cliveden House in Buckinghamshire last year (Photograph: Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)

The National Trust made nearly 1,800 people redundant as it looked to plug £173m in lost income as a result of the pandemic. 

The conservation charity’s latest accounts for the year ending 28 February show total annual income fell from nearly £681m in 2019/20 to £508m in 2020/21. 

The charity said this was largely down to the closure of most of its properties, including shops, cafes and holiday cottages, and all its events being cancelled.

This resulted in the number of visits to its sites halving from 2019/20 to 13.6 million.

Total expenditure also fell by £188m year on year as the charity tried to mitigate its lost trading activity with measures such as furloughing up to 81 per cent of its staff.

In October, the trust announced that it would make about 1,300 people redundant as it looked to make savings of £100m, but its latest accounts show 1,767 lost their jobs, leaving it with almost 7,600 staff. 

Despite a challenging year, the charity received its biggest-ever donation in May in the form of a £4m gift from the bank HSBC UK

It also generated £79m in fundraising, including £44.6m from gifts in wills.

The trust's accounts show a 383 per cent increase in online donations totalling £865,000, and it said August last year “broke records” when its holiday cottages were almost entirely full and its sales through its online shop increased by 65.6 per cent.

Its conservation efforts continued throughout the pandemic with £83.8m spent on houses, collections and gardens. 

The charity has been under fire since last year when it published a report researching its properties’ links to slavery, despite the Charity Commission later telling Third Sector it had received just three complaints about the charity’s work or purpose.

It sparked fierce debate on social media about the charity’s work and caused the commission to open a compliance case into the trust, which later found no breach of charity law

Many social media users, and some Conservative MPs, suggested the report would result in falling membership numbers. But its latest accounts show the charity retained 84.2 per cent of its membership – about one percentage point down on the equivalent rate in the previous year. 

Overall, the charity said its membership fell by about half a million people to about 5.5 million, in part because it was unable to recruit members at its properties. This meant the number of new members fell by more than 60 per cent from the previous year.

Since April this year, the charity said its membership had been growing again at a rate of about 105,000 new members every month.

Hilary McGrady, director-general of the National Trust, said: “Our supporters have really stuck by us, whether that is staying with us as members or offering record-breaking online donations, and for that I am so grateful.

“Now that most of our places have reopened and we’re recovering from the pandemic, the early signs are hugely encouraging. 

“But as a charity we will feel the financial repercussions for some years to come.”

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