It’s the week after the National Trust 2019 AGM on 19 October - our own 'Super Saturday' - and all feels calm, reflects Paul Boniface, Secretary of the National Trust, in our latest Director's blog.
Attendance was good (400ish and many more online), the event management was superb as usual. Many of your questions were answered, with some great speeches from Director-General, Hilary McGrady and Chair, Tim Parker. Tim managed proceedings well ensuring all opinions were heard and treated with respect. The hot topics for 2019 were climate change and our partnership with Cadbury.
If you would like to watch all or parts of the AGM, you can access the video on our website.
Annual General Meetings have happened since the end of the 19th century (how I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall). They’re a requirement of the Trust’s constitution and provide a regular opportunity for you to hear from and ask questions of the Trust’s top brass. Members can ask any questions they like about all things National Trust. As in most years, on Saturday these ranged from ones about dog walking on properties to ones about major issues of policy.
My job at the AGM is to help everyone feel at ease and ensure the business of the day is worked through according to the requirements of our constitution. This was my 19th AGM so I hope I’m forgiven for saying that I’d heard a lot of familiar questions during the main part of the Q&A session.
Then – just as Tim was adjourning the meeting ahead of lunch – a very vocal and passionate member shouted from the back that the meeting was failing to discuss the biggest issue facing the Trust (and planet), ie climate change. His frustration and strong views (his demand was for all NT members to write to their MPs) set the tone for the rest of the meeting.
Members of the Trust can propose resolutions to the AGM so long as they are supported by 50 other members. We had one resolution this year, one related to climate change and which asked the Board to sever our partnership with Cadbury immediately because, ‘Cadbury chocolate is made with unsustainable palm oil’. In what was a passionate and wide-ranging debate, members weighed up the arguments for moving away from Cadbury now to those of the Board presented by our Deputy Chair, Orna NiChionna.
In the end the resolution was defeated, but I know from experience that the Trustees will take careful account of the issues arising in the debate at their next meeting.
The day closed with a panel ‘Question Time’ style debate about what part the Trust should play in responding to Parliament’s declaration of a climate emergency. The panel of three comprised the National Trust’s Outdoors & Nature Director, Patrick Begg, National Trust member Ali Stopher who had campaigned for the Trust to disinvest in fossil fuels (a decision made by the Board earlier this year) and the amazingly confident and knowledgeable 13-year-old Nora Buffery of the UK Student Climate Network. Patrick carefully explained the Trust’s position and actions being taken, ones generally supported by the panel and audience.
The debate provided an opportunity for the sharing of ideas, clarification of policy and broadening of perspectives. There was limited challenge to the Trust’s position and my sense was that – bar one or two members – there was a large degree of consensus in the room. But it was the right discussion for the current time.
With everything going on during what was dubbed ‘Super Saturday’ – Parliament sitting, mass marches and even the rugby, I feared we might have a slightly lack-lustre meeting with fewer members. Nothing like it – it was one of the most lively and passionate meetings I have attended.
Enormous thanks go to the many staff who volunteered to support the event, to the technical team and most importantly to the members who gave up their Saturdays to participate. I look forward to our next AGM on 31 October 2020. There must be a joke about the coincidence of Halloween. I haven’t thought of one yet but will think on…