National Trust chief urges staff to back charity's bosses in key vote

National Trust bosses urge staff to vote against ‘war on woke’ campaign set up by rebellious members furious at charity’s direction

  • Charity has been embroiled in a battle with a splinter group called Restore Trust
  • Members are enraged by way some properties have been ‘blacklisted’
  • Trust’s director of communications Celia Richardson wrote internal message
  • She urged staff to vote against what she called ‘organised campaigners’  
  • A senior figure at the National Trust has called on staff to vote in support of bosses at an upcoming members’ meeting as she hit out a ‘war on woke’ campaign being carried out by disgruntled rebels.

    The charity has been embroiled in a battle with a splinter group called Restore Trust (RT) whose members have become enraged by the way some of its properties have been ‘blacklisted’ over alleged links to colonialism and slavery.

    There was also uproar in 2017 when stately home volunteers in Norfolk were ordered to wear gay pride badges, before the National Trust reversed the policy in the face of quit threats from helpers.  

    More than 6,000 current and former members including Tory MPs have thrown their weight behind the RT splinter group, with more than £40,000 raised in a ‘fighting fund’ to help battle ‘anti-woke’ policies and as a forum ‘discuss concerns about the future of the charity’.

    Restore Trust has backed six candidates for empty positions on the Trust’s 36-seat governing council and members will today be able to vote for them, as well as issues such as the treatment of volunteers.

    But Celia Richardson, the Trust’s director of communications, has provoked uproar by writing to staff to urge them to vote against what she called ‘organised campaigners’ who she said have ‘their sights set on our AGM and the papers calling it a ‘war on woke’.’

    Former staff members told The Telegraph that the vote request was a break with convention and that in previous meetings staff were told to give up their membership and abstain.

    The Trust’s director general Hilary McGrady and interim chairman Orna NiChionna, are also understood to have written to staff urging them to vote.  

    In response to her internal letter, a Restore Trust spokesman said it was ‘clearly inappropriate’ for the charity to be putting its staff ‘under pressure’ and added that they are trying to ‘protect their cosy fiefdom and ignore the deafening sound of discontent.’ 

    The culture war tearing apart the National Trust was ramped up further today after bosses turned on a group of 'anti-woke' campaigners. Pictured: Winston Churchill's Chartwell home in Kent, which was embroiled in controversy when the NT 'blacklisted' the property in 2020

    A senior figure at the National Trust has called on staff to vote in support of bosses at an upcoming members’ meeting as she hit out a ‘war on woke’ campaign being carried out by disgruntled rebels. Above: Winston Churchill’s Chartwell home in Kent, which was embroiled in controversy when the NT ‘blacklisted’ the property in 2020

    Ms Richardson also told staff to ‘encourage every member you know to use their vote’ and sent an email reminder to employees on the day that online voting closed last week ahead of the meeting. 

    The senior staff member also recently tweeted: ‘This so-called ‘war on wokeness’ is a serious issue. The Trust has serve the nation for 126 years by unifying millions.

    ‘Organised ideological campaigns can do real damage.’  

    Celia Richardson, the Trust's director of communications has written to staff

    Celia Richardson, the Trust’s director of communications has written to staff

    The Trust told The Telegraph that voting reminders were a matter of ‘good practice’ and that there was no ‘pressure’ to vote. MailOnline has approached the charity for comment. 

    Earlier this month, the Trust suggested it was being used as a ‘punchbag’ by RT and their supporters, who they accused of waging an ‘ideological campaign’ against it.  

    They said in a statement: ‘Our national institutions need healthy and respectful debate if they’re going to thrive and be handed on to serve future generations, as they have served so many in the past and present. They must not be used as a punchbag, to divide people, or led by extreme views.

    ‘Our founders set out to protect and promote places of historic interest and natural beauty for the benefit of the nation. 

    ‘That means we are for everyone. Whether you’re black or white, straight or gay, right or left wing’. 

    RT was established earlier this year amid anger at a sensational 115-page report which ‘blacklisted’ 93 of the National Trust’s estates over their alleged links to slavery – including Chartwell in Kent, home of Sir Winston Churchill.  

    The charity has been embroiled in a battle with a splinter group called Restore Trust (RT) whose members have become enraged by the way some of its properties have been 'blacklisted' over alleged links to colonialism and slavery. Above: A staff member at the Trust's Petworth House in July last year

    The charity has been embroiled in a battle with a splinter group called Restore Trust (RT) whose members have become enraged by the way some of its properties have been ‘blacklisted’ over alleged links to colonialism and slavery. Above: A staff member at the Trust’s Petworth House in July last year

    Among the six council candidates backed by RT for election is Stephen Green, the head of a Christian fundamentalist lobbying group, who accuses the National Trust of being overly concerned with ‘LGBQT+ issues’, reports The Guardian

    Green, who says he has no link to RT, said if elected he would ensure ‘future donors feel safe from the Trust poring over their past and inventing salacious details of an imagined private life’.  

    The splinter group is backed by Sir John Hayes, head of the Conservative Party’s Common Sense Group, and Neil Bennett who oversees RT’s ever-growing list of donors. 

    RT has been buoyed by increasing numbers of MPs, campaigners and National Trust members who back their goals to revert the 126-year-old charity to an ‘apolitical’ state.

    In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality – a demand later dropped by the charity. 

    RT lists its aims as restoring the Trust’s ‘apolitical ethos’ and helping it return to ‘doing what it does best’ by maintaining historic buildings, interiors and artefacts, gardens and countryside to the ‘highest standard’.

    It also plans to reinstate ‘the aesthetic experience’ of the Trust’s historic houses and gardens ‘so that visitors can enjoy them visually, spatially, and sometimes peacefully, without intrusive interpretation.’

    In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. [File picture]

    In 2017, the charity came under fire after it emerged that the Trust had tried to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow symbol on lanyards and badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality. [File picture]

    Following the report, critics slammed the decision from National Trust bosses to move the historic charity in a ‘bourgeois’ and ‘politically correct’ direction. 

    Ex-chairman Tim Parker sensationally quit just 24 hours after furious members launched an ‘anti-woke’ vote of no confidence in a bid to depose him in the wake of the findings. 

    At last November’s virtual annual meeting, Mr Parker was slammed for describing Black Lives Matter as a ‘human rights movement with no party-political affiliations’ in a letter to a member.

    In the UK, BLM has called for the defunding of the police following the murder of George Floyd in the US last summer.

    Speaking at the meeting, Mr Parker said ‘we are not members of BLM’ and added that he hoped Trust members would see ‘that in no way the Trust has become a political organisation that has been taken over by a bunch of woke folk or anything of that nature’.

    Mr Parker – who took on the role in 2014 – said the Trust was ‘committed to anti-racism and to creating a diverse, inclusive and welcoming environment.’

    More than 6,000 current and former members have thrown their weight behind RT, with over £40,000 raised in a 'fighting fund' to help battle the charity's 'anti-woke' policies. Pictured: Neil Bennett of Restore Trust, who oversees the group's ever-growing list of donors

    More than 6,000 current and former members have thrown their weight behind RT, with over £40,000 raised in a ‘fighting fund’ to help battle the charity’s ‘anti-woke’ policies. Pictured: Neil Bennett of Restore Trust, who oversees the group’s ever-growing list of donors

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