Common Ground: London Borough of Culture and the National Trust

Misty morning on the tree lined avenue at Morden Hall Park

The National Trust's Regional Director for London and the South East, Nicola Briggs, outlines the common ground that she identifies between the London Borough of Culture and the Trust's past, present and future.

It might come as a surprise to learn that the National Trust was founded, in 1895, not to protect country houses and their way of life but, rather, in response to the failure to protect green spaces for the benefit of the working classes of London. Octavia Hill’s failure to protect parts of Deptford and Swiss Cottage were the impetus for the creation of a charitable trust that could purchase and protect anything of natural beauty or historic importance “forever, for everyone” – still our core purpose today. 

Octavia's orchard was inspired by the work of Victorian social reformer and founder of the National Trust, Octavia Hill
The National Trust paired with the Southbank Centre to create create an urban orchard inspired by Octavia Hill

The contemporary National Trust has spent the last five years engaging with the city and its inhabitants through a series of research and development projects. As well as ongoing work to open up and bring to life the twelve places we care for in London, we’ve worked beyond our walls with creative producers and communities to create an urban orchard with the Southbank Centre, a pop-up beach under the Westway flyover, explorations of twentieth-century architecture, a celebration of the heritage and identity of Croydon, and a project looking at the future of the cityscape. What we’ve learned from these projects, and more, is the important emotional connection between people and place, and the way in which places from country estates to housing estates, from local parks to multi-storey car parks (viz. Bold Tendencies in Peckham) matter to Londoners. It is this connection between people and places that we plan to further explore through the Mayor’s London Borough of Culture initiative.

" It is this connection between people and places that we plan to further explore through the Mayor’s London Borough of Culture initiative. "
- Nicola Briggs

It was an easy decision to become a core partner of the campaign. In placing culture alongside the other strategic aims of his term, the Mayor has recognised the potential of culture as common ground on which to bring together otherwise disconnected people. For us, that means exploring the things that people value about the boroughs they live in – the things that actually give places their spirit – like heritage and nature. For sure, those things might be historic buildings or public green spaces, but they might also be more intangible or everyday; a memory of a particular event that happened in a place, public or personal, giving it a new meaning forevermore. We all have those places in our lives, but their stories are less often told. Our hope is that we can bring a new appreciation for such places by working with communities to understand, interpret, and help tell their histories of the past and present in ways that may also inform the future.