Eager to open the doors to our much-loved houses

Published: 05 March 2021

Last update: 05 March 2021

Blog post
This blog post is written by Andy Beer, National Trust Director of Operations Andy Beer National Trust Director of Operations
Visitors in the house at Tyntesfield, Bristol, wearing masks

Director of Operations Andy Beer highlights plans for reopening the houses we've had to close, and discusses how the hope of reuniting friends and families across our places makes difficult decisions worthwhile.

There are few people more eager than me to see the doors to the National Trust’s much-loved houses open once again. 

While we locked these places up for the best of reasons – to help keep people safe and stop the spread of coronavirus – every member of staff and every volunteer has longed for the day we can welcome people back. Just the thought of seeing families and friends come together again in places they love, perhaps for that first family picnic or that wander around a beautiful gallery of paintings, puts a huge smile on my face. 

Much needed hope

The Trust’s core purpose is about making these places open and welcoming to everyone, enabling members and visitors alike to enjoy an unparalleled wealth of nature, beauty and history.

That’s why the government’s roadmap out of the pandemic gives us much-needed hope. While the Prime Minister’s dates for lifting lockdown come with some caution - not least the need for a continuing decline in infection rates and further progress with vaccinations - they provide vital waymarkers on the journey to full reopening.

I’m proud to be leading a team that is working full time to get our houses ready to welcome millions of you back when we’re given the green light.

2019 was a record year for us as 28 million visitors enjoyed our places, and after what has been one of the toughest years, I can’t wait to welcome each and every one of you back this year. It’s your ongoing support through your donations and sticking by us as members that has kept us going these past 12 months, and for that I am deeply grateful.

Let me make one thing clear, none of our houses will close permanently. If you had the chance to visit them in 2019, you’ll be able to do just that again in the future.

We will have to do things differently

But I’m under no illusions that the pandemic means we will have to do things differently. I have the difficult challenge of delivering more access to our places with a smaller team of people.

We will continue to use our booking system, which we had to introduce to manage visitor numbers so we could maintain social distancing, and which has helped more than 12 million visitors enjoy our places during the pandemic. As our Director General, Hilary McGrady, said in the summer, that booking system must stay in place, at least while we still face restrictions. 

Most of our parks and gardens are open already. When our houses reopen, hopefully from 17 May, we will be offering almost one million entry tickets every week across more than 200 places.

I’m also not going to shy away from the fact that the pandemic has hit us hard as a charity, like so many other organisations. We’re having to make £100m savings each year for the foreseeable future, and that’s meant making tough financial choices, and sadly saying goodbye to colleagues as we made roles redundant. Those decisions are some of the most difficult any leader has to take in what has already been one of our most challenging years. But it’s a reality, and it means we’ve had to look at how we manage our places, and whether we can do things better.

With that in mind, our excellent property teams across all three nations have spent the past few months looking at how they can best open their doors in ways that will suit our visitors and local communities, while at the same time protecting the charitable funds that we receive from you as our supporters.

So, there will be changes to our opening times and days at some of our properties; many large houses will open all year round, but for smaller places you will need to check our website and may well have to book to be assured of a space. 

We are also taking the opportunity to refresh some of our most successful visits, with more guided tours so you can get even closer to history, in the same way we do at some of our much-loved properties like the Beatles houses in Liverpool and Back-to-Backs in Birmingham.

 

Visitors exploring the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Visitors exploring the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire
Visitors exploring the Cloisters at Lacock Abbey, Wiltshire

Finalising our plans

When we do open our doors this year, there will be some houses that will stay shut just a little longer so we can finish off essential repairs or complete our redisplay of their collections. For instance, Sudbury Hall in the Midlands is being transformed into the Trust's first Country House where we will put children at the heart of the visit. There will also be others, such as 575 Wandsworth Road in London, that are simply too small to open while any social distancing measures remain in place. The same will apply to some of our smallest rooms.

But rest assured, when their work is finished or the restrictions are lifted, their doors will be unlocked, and you’ll be able to explore them once again.

We’re now finalising our plans for reopening and we will make sure our volunteers, members, supporters and local communities are kept up-to-date.

Nature, beauty and history

We’ve never had to shut so many of our places for this long, and opening them isn’t as simple as turning the key or unbolting the gates. There’s lots of preparation work needed to welcome millions of visitors every year, and our dedicated teams are working flat out to ensure this happens when we’re allowed.

Let’s not forget, of course, that we’ve been able to keep open many of our outdoor spaces, and thousands of you have been enjoying those through the pandemic. Now it’s the turn of our houses to step up and make their mark on a brighter, post pandemic future.

The houses and their collections that you know and love are still there; our people are still looking after them, uncovering the history of a portrait from Petworth, conserving a tapestry from Hardwick Hall, and a hundred other tasks to keep our places the way you expect them to be.

Although the pandemic is not yet behind us, the thought of nature, beauty and history filling our lives again is surely one to brighten these dark days.
 

Staff member talking with visitors at Allan Bank, Cumbria

Got a question? 

Find answers to some of the most commonly asked questions about visiting and using the booking system.