UK minister has termed the National Trust’s report on links to slavery and colonialism that highlighted Winston Churchill’s home Chartwell as ‘unfortunate’ and asked the trust to ‘reflect and learn’ from the offence caused by it.
Nigel Huddleston, minister for sport, tourism and heritage, has asked the trust to concentrate on ‘curating and preserving historic houses, gardens and landscapes for the nation’.
He also ruled out requests from MPs to hold an inquiry into the direction of the trust.
The trust in September published a report outlining historical slavery and colonial links of almost a third of the 300 properties it cares including Churchill’s home, as he was prime minister during the Bengal famine and opposed independence for India.
In a debate in Westminster Hall on Wednesday(11) the Tory MP Andrew Murrison said that the trust has made a ‘dramatic change’ of direction that has alarmed its ‘members, volunteers and workforce’.
He said that the trust was proposing the closure of some of its smaller houses ‘under the cover of Covid’.
He said it should be approaching the Charity Commission about overturning some of the covenants preventing the use of its £1.3 billion reserves to offset the effects of the pandemic.
In August, The Times revealed the existence of a ten-year strategy that outlined the intention to ‘dial down’ the trust’s role as a cultural institution and move away from being the custodian of the English country home.
The strategy plans to put its collections into storage and prioritise being a ‘gateway to the outdoors’ and states that its ‘outdated mansion experience’ is serving a ‘loyal but dwindling audience’.
The National Trust has lost about £200 million in expected revenues due to the pandemic and embarked on a wide consultation programme.
According to Murrison it was obvious to visitors that the wealth to create some of the country houses during the imperial period would have come from dubious sources and there is no need to ‘force-fed’ it.
Hilary McGrady, director-general of the trust, has said that the vast majority of the 5.6 million members were not ‘arguing about the trust’ and its decisions.
“They are the real silent majority. When I am out and about they are not arguing about the trust. They are there to enjoy their surroundings. They are giving their volunteer hours to the conservation of our shared heritage,” she wrote in The Daily Telegraph.