National Trust members battling against the body’s woke leaders accuse chiefs of ‘trampling on our history’ with ‘politically-motivated’ report into properties’ colonial history
Rebel members have accused National Trust bosses of ‘trampling on our history’ by publishing a report into the colonialist history of its houses that was ‘littered with inaccuracies’.
The charity has been embroiled in a battle with splinter group 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.
Neil Bennett, who oversees RT’s ever-growing list of donors, today told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the charity was ‘failing in its central mission’ and ‘instead actually standing against the nation’s heritage’.
The ‘war on woke’ intensified this morning ahead of a crunch vote on the future direction of the charity.
RT 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.
The National Trust 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. Pictured, Chartwell House in Kent
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’.
Mr Bennett accused the Trust’s leadership of ‘failing’ during the radio interview this morning, and called for former chair Simon Jenkins to take over.
Appearing on the programme alongside him Mr Jenkins, who chaired the National Trust between 2008 and 2014, said: ‘I don’t think anyone who has ever read history could recount [the report on colonialism] as an outstanding report.
‘In this case I think they got frankly a dire group of people to do it. Obviously it wasn’t satisfactory.’
Mr Bennett said the report was ‘insulting’ to the membership and to those who donated their homes.
He added: ‘We wouldn’t have a problem with the Trust looking at links to colonialism and slavery. The fact was that report last year was a bad report. It was littered with inaccuracies. It was produced very much for political motives we feel and really let the Trust down.
Neil Bennett (pictured), who oversees RT’s ever-growing list of donors, today told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the charity was ‘failing in its central mission’ and ‘instead actually standing against the nation’s heritage’
‘It was commissioned and sanctioned from a very senior level within the organisation. You see examples everywhere of dumbing down, but it’s more than that. It’s insulting the membership, who are the driving force within the trust, insulting the people who donated the properties to the Trust and really just trampling on our history.’
He accused the Trust of holding a ‘Maoist’ approach of ‘eridicating history’, and added: ‘Last year the Trust produced a report that was then leaked that talked about abolishing what it called the outdated mansion experience.
‘It shows just how far the senior members of the trust have moved away from its membership and I think we’re at breaking point.’
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’.
The Trust’s director general Hilary McGrady and interim chairman Orna NiChionna, are understood to have written to staff urging them to vote.
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.
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. Above: A staff member at the Trust’s Petworth House in July last year
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.’
Today Mr Bennett added: ‘Today is an opening shot. We only formed the group four months ago.
‘The Trust has I’m afraid stuffed the ballot by coercing their staff to vote in the Annual General Meeting (AGM) so we’re not expecting too much.
‘This is just the start, it takes a lot for an organisation to change. We’ve been slow to be stirred up but we’re now committed to this.’
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.’
The Trust told The Telegraph that voting reminders were a matter of ‘good practice’ and that there was no ‘pressure’. MailOnline has approached the charity for comment.
Celia Richardson, the Trust’s director of communications, has provoked uproar by writing to staff to urge them to vote
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.
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.
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 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]
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.’