Who can fill the Na­tional Trust va­cancy?

Athena Cul­tural Cru­sader

Country Life Every Week - - Athena -

‘What the Trust needs is not a man­ager, but a leader of vi­sion

THE won­der of the Na­tional Trust is the im­prob­a­ble va­ri­ety of its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties: na­ture re­serves, work­ing wa­ter­mills, an­cient wood­land, farm­land and war memo­ri­als, not to men­tion the coun­try houses, their con­tents and their gar­dens. A life­time is barely enough to visit these hold­ings in their en­tirety, let alone to un­der­stand the be­wil­der­ing com­plex­ity of manag­ing them.

Now that the Trust is look­ing to re­place its Di­rec­tor Gen­eral, Dame He­len Ghosh, who has been in the post for only five years, Athena won­ders who should suc­ceed her (Town & Coun­try, July 26).

The suc­cess­ful can­di­date will need to man­age a large and com­plex or­gan­i­sa­tion, as well as the in­her­ent ten­sions be­tween the cen­tre, the re­gions and the in­di­vid­ual prop­er­ties. It’s just one as­pect of this dif­fi­cult chem­istry that the Trust ought to be the stan­dard bearer for lo­cal dis­tinc­tive­ness, yet needs a cen­tralised team of spe­cial­ists and cu­ra­tors to man­age its re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to a high stan­dard. Quite apart from the staff, the Trust is served by no fewer than 60,000 vol­un­teers, who need mo­ti­va­tion. Alien­ate them at your peril.

No less crit­i­cal, there is—in busi­ness speak—the prod­uct. It’s far from clear what that is. Feel­ings of well-be­ing on the part of mem­bers and vis­i­tors? Preser­va­tion of frag­ile places per­haps? Ed­u­ca­tion? Her­itage? Health­ful­ness? Em­bod­i­ment of na­tional iden­tity? The Trust gen­er­ates a vis­ceral loy­alty and has nearly five mil­lion mem­bers, but that pas­sion­ate com­mit­ment also presents a chal­lenge, as each mem­ber sees the world dif­fer­ently.

Over­see­ing all this will take in­ter­est, com­pe­tence, con­vic­tion, en­thu­si­asm, wis- dom and ex­pe­ri­ence, not to men­tion a hu­man touch and good me­dia skills— these days, the com­men­tariat is un­for­giv­ing. In short, it’s hard to imag­ine that any one per­son could be equal to this Her­culean task. How­ever, the ap­par­ent im­pos­si­bil­ity of the job per­haps sug­gests the way for­ward.

What the Trust needs at this junc­ture is not a man­ager—in a busi­ness sense, it seems ef­fi­ciently, even ruth­lessly at times, run at present—but a leader of vi­sion. Only such a per­son can rise above the im­me­di­ate com­plex­i­ties of the or­gan­i­sa­tion and ad­dress the big ques­tions that lie at the roots of the Trust’s role and pur­pose (as well as many of its present dif­fi­cul­ties).

Is the Trust fun­da­men­tally a mem­ber­ship or­gan­i­sa­tion, a pub­lic body or a so­cial ser­vice? To what ex­tent should it fol­low the mar­ket or plough an ide­o­log­i­cal fur­row? Is its role to ed­u­cate or en­ter­tain? What is the Trust’s role post-brexit? To what ex­tent should it flex its mus­cles and cam­paign po­lit­i­cally?

Ap­point­ing an in­di­vid­ual who can ad­dress such ques­tions will nec­es­sar­ily re­quire a leap of faith, but this glo­ri­ous, amor­phous in­sti­tu­tion needs a dy­namic char­ac­ter at its head if it’s to avoid dis­ap­pear­ing from view be­neath the weight of its own var­i­ous­ness.

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