You’ll remember at the end of last year I was invited to the new Garden Kitchen cafe at Packwood House in the lovely Warwickshire countryside. Whilst I was there I also had the opportunity to interview Dame Helen Ghosh, the new Director-General of the National Trust.
The National Trust is an organisation founded over 100 years ago by three passionate Victorians who wanted to preserve outdoor spaces and prevent them from being built on. Today the organisation protects historic houses, gardens, mills, coastline, forests, woods, fens, beeches, farmland, moorland, archaeological remains and nature reserves for us all to enjoy. I wanted to find out from Dame Helen, a year into her post, what she feels she has achieved and how different is the Trust today.
What role do you feel the National Trust plays in society today?
We’re a charity that works to preserve and protect historic houses and spaces forever, for everyone. Our mission has not changed since we were founded and we are here for the benefit of the nation. Providing access to green spaces for people living in urban areas started last century and the preservation of large country houses has come to symbolise the National Trust. I would say today there is a mix between properties and land, although traditionally our projects are not in the centre of towns. We are continue to respond to customer needs, and offer incentives and concessions to enable anyone to access the Trust.
What do you want to achieve as Director-General?
I took over a Trust that was in great shape and I want to continue the excellent work. To have a charitable cause that exists to preserve our natural beauty is just wonderful. I want to continue to expand our membership, which is currently at 4 million. Of course at our heart we are a charity, but we also provide a good day out. I want to continue to help people engage and value what we are trying to preserve for them and future generations.
Where do you see the National Trust in the next five years?
Continuing to do well and getting better at what we do. I want to see us engage in stories and there are some great examples that I want to see more of. We will continue to full our purpose and carry on preserving and protecting for the next generations to enjoy. Of course there are opportunities and threats, from nature and from people, which we have to respond to and we monitor how well we are doing that. For example the twentieth century has seen us pay more attention to our coastline due to the state of the coast. We will be looking at doing more around bio-diversity, nature and the loss of species, as well as conserving our parkland and large land mass including the coastline. We’ve started to introduce initiatives to encourage people to visit more often, for example on a local level there are things like the Welly Walk here at Packwood, and on a national level we have 50 things to do before your 11 3/4 and winter walks. These are all designed to provide the best visitor experience whilst highlighting our preservation work.
I really enjoyed talking with Dame Helen, as well as more generally with Lucy Reid, who is responsible for managing Packwood. As an advocate of the National Trust, I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. For now I will continue to visit my local Warwickshire and Midlands properties as well as exploring further a field and expanding my cultural understanding of our rich history. Here are the places I have visited so far.
Thank you to Susan Guy who kindly sent me the photographs of my interview