How should the National Trust promote local distinctiveness at properties?

Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton decorated in the style of the Arts and Crafts movement

What do you think the National Trust’s role should be in promoting local distinctiveness at its properties?

Sarah Green, Northumberland

The National Trust has a very strong national brand which allows its properties and places a real opportunity within this national framework to promote their unique local distinctiveness. For volunteers, tenants and local visitors this ability to celebrate the distinctiveness of place and potentially their heritage helps connect them to the National Trust and gives the National Trust relevance. For incoming tourists, the diversity of the National Trust experience in different localities enhances the visitor experience.

By understanding and reinforcing local distinctiveness the National Trust becomes a relevant local stakeholder and gains local bottom up grassroots influence and support, which adds credibility to its national political influence. The National Trust, through its local committees and property managers could work more with local communities, businesses and stakeholders to increase distinct local content to enhance its offer, local influence and relevance. I am particularly interested in engaging more local SMEs in the National Trust.

Steve Anderson, West Midlands

I may be broadening the question but I think conservation, especially buildings conservation, goes beyond the fabric of the building. Just as important are the stories of the people who lived and worked there, which I feel is the link to local character and history. I do think that for the right reasons the Trust has worked hard to improve its ‘brand image’ to give visitors a consistent, high quality experience at all its properties, but in doing so, I also think it has tended to trample on those regional and local identities that make up our rich heritage.

So, what is the National Trust’s role? The organisation has a clear strategy towards experiences that move teach and inspire. Personally, I don’t think you can describe the significance of a building or a landscape, without framing it with descriptions of the geography and character of local communities in which it sits.

Virginia Llado-Buisan, Oxford

Distinctiveness of a place or a collection defines their value and is intimately connected to the identity of the community or the location to which it belongs. Preserving the uniqueness of heritage sites or collections is about respecting and celebrating their integrity and historic value. I think that National Trust has a responsibility to protect and to help members discover and celebrate such value.

The prosperity of smaller communities and places can sometimes largely depend on the conservation and promotion of their historic and natural heritage: with the right measures in place to ensure best preservation standards are met, National Trust can continue to generate income, bring health and cultural benefits to communities, and open potential to attract visitors.

Raymond Williams, Buckinghamshire

I would want to know more about your definition of local distinctiveness. I want our properties to be maintained as far as practical in their historic condition. People are fascinated by the past.

However, as an example, some properties have a World War 2 association. This is worthy of development. Other properties have associations with people such as Disraeli, Kings and Queens.

Yes, local interest history should feature in our marketing programme. I must say that the National Trust does a great job in marketing and public relations.

Since I won The National Marketing Award - for an outstanding achievement in British Marketing - I may be able to help in the marketing of local attractions.

So, local features will help attract more visitors. I have lots of other ideas if elected.

Leigh McManus, Leicestershire

Local distinctiveness is closely linked to the environment, the economy and the social ambience of a place and has been defined as that which makes a place special, differentiating it from anywhere else.

The National Trust should inspire people and communities to protect and promote whatever is distinctive about their place. Change can improve or diminish a place. We all know too many high streets which look the same, housing estates which could be anywhere, or festivals which have no authenticity. Local distinctiveness is concerned with celebrating the unique characteristics of a place and with demanding the best of the new, so that quality and authenticity adds richness to our surroundings.

Local distinctiveness will draw people to the special place and have an interest in what you are doing. It should complement local activities as well as continue a theme originating from other places.

Guy Trehane, Dorset

The rich tapestry of Britain is created by local landscape, traditions, language, industry and food. The National Trust must continue to improve its scholarship, traditional skills and curatorial excellence to connect local history and products with our treasure house of properties.

Emma Mee, Cambridge

I’d be concerned about the term ‘local distinctiveness’. I don’t feel that all sites in a particular region need to reflect each other, otherwise the offer to local people is fairly bland. Exposing members to new styles, architecture, and something different to the region is more interesting. Historically, many properties were built to stand out and showcase new styles, and the trust needs to be authentic to their origins through their renovations and operations.

However, the role of the National Trust is to preserve, and can certainly look to ensure we have the full portfolio of local interests covered, like the mines in Cornwall and the factories of the industrial heartlands – it certainly needn’t be limited to grand stately homes. Even in natural landscapes that will reflect the distinctive local environment, diversity is key to members’ enjoyment as much as it is to building resilience within ecosystems.

Michael Tavener, West Midlands

I believe this is very important and that further progress should be made in articulating to Members and visitors how sites located in a particular region are linked together in terms of the part they have played in either defining the region’s identity or were/are reflective of it.

The Midlands has a rich and proud history and can provide insight into how the region created its national identity and the wider context of how it shaped the nation’s identity on the international stage.

Elizabeth Staples, Staffordshire

As a retail volunteer, I have noted that the corporate theme is gradually becoming distinctive and professional. We all know that shops at the properties are similar in outlook but individual in each case. I think that the local distinctiveness of each property must be kept so that though the corporate identity is there so is each and every property distinctive. This means that staff should be able to have individual discretion on how this should be achieved.

Inga Grimsey, Suffolk

The National Trust should promote local distinctiveness at its properties by protecting the “spirit of each individual place” and ensuring that this is celebrated.  

The key is in recruiting the right general manger that understands and champions local distinctiveness and enables the spirit of the place to flourish.

Not all properties should feel or look the same even though they are part of the National Trust family. They should be distinctive and celebrate the stories and people at their properties.

The National Trust should encourage the use of local and seasonal produce in its restaurants and embrace local culinary traditions. Local products, relevant to the property should be sold in the shops.

The National Trust should ensure building styles are protected in vernacular buildings.

National Trust properties must ensure they become part of local communities and engage with the people who live in the communities.

Christopher Catling, Wales

This is a very important issue. Coming from Wales, I would like to see much more emphasis on Welsh history and culture in the presentation of the National Trust's properties. I am also very keen to encourage people to 'adopt' their local National Trust property and treat it not as belonging to some remote charity, but as a local asset - I would say to people 'get involved as a volunteer and make it your own'. And wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing if every school in the land treated their nearest National Trust property as a resource on which to base their teaching about science, maths or history.

Edel Trainor, Northern Ireland

I think the National Trust is well placed to help promote local distinctiveness at its properties as many of these places are endemic to their geographical locations. The varied portfolio of properties reflects this. Historically, such places utilised local crafts people to create these places. In instances where conservation work is being undertaken to maintain the fabric of these properties local artisans, craft and trades people should be championed and information on their work promoted. 

Local distinctiveness could be promoted through the goods for sale in the ubiquitous National Trust shop or tea room. By selling the work of local crafts people and produce from local suppliers, local businesses could be supported. Events at the properties should use local providers where possible. Certain projects at the properties should encourage the participation of local people to enable a sense of civic ownership and affection which should hopefully continue their protection for future generations.

Bella Mezger, London

I passionately believe in each property promoting local distinctiveness, and deeply understanding its own sense of place and purpose. This is the way in which the National Trust will attract a more diverse range of people to its properties, and engage a fuller spectrum of local communities and visitors.

Local distinctiveness is absolutely key in achieving our mission of both ‘for ever’ and ‘for everyone’. I see part of the National Trust’s role as equipping its staff to translate local distinctiveness in engaging and meaningful ways, with which visitors can engage. I also think the National Trust’s role is to provide sufficient devolution to local property level, whilst providing specialist advice and support from the centre on how to best achieve this.

Joff Whitten, Suffolk

In some ways, I think the National Trust does this very well as almost every property or location is itself unique and so often staffed by volunteers giving their time and energy to make the places they love stay open, for longer. As a result, many voices and local loyal nuance can be observed at the sites, from plant stock to the offers in the cafes to locally sourced items in the shops – let alone the heritage itself.

However, it is important for each venue or location to feel connected to a greater whole and for wonderful programmes such as the “50 things to do by you’re 11 ¾” to be truly successful the whole of the National Trust’s portfolio needs to be enthusiastic. I am very interested in understanding the opinions of visitors who use National Trust venues but don’t become members; would local nuance make them more likely to become members?

Caroline Kay, Wiltshire

It is really important that visitors to a National Trust property know that the organisation looks after it - we shouldn't be ashamed of the oak leaf - but branding should avoid corporate blandness. The use of vernacular materials for new building, the use of locally-sourced produce and local specialties in food and beverage outlets, an element of merchandise in shops which relates to that property alone should help.

The stories about a property should relate to the local community. Where appropriate, connections with nearby sites, whether or not managed by the National Trust, should be made (for example in Cornwall it makes sense that all the tin mining heritage attractions, irrespective of ownership, facilitate cross-links to their visitors). Local distinctiveness can also be supplied or informed by the volunteers, who can bring an on-the-ground understanding of the property within its community.

Duncan Mackay, Berkshire

I have helped Common Ground, the originators of ‘local distinctiveness’, since its inception. Inspired, I wrote a book on the apples of Berkshire, pressed 51 apple varieties into juice for eager public sampling at Hughenden Manor and wrote another book on how to cook tasty local wild food. I contributed to Common Ground’s book of local distinctiveness ‘England in Particular’. I also rode the longest straight line in Britain from IoW to Cape Wrath (on my folding bicycle) to examine the relationship between local landscapes and produce.

I think the National Trust should positively promote the natural and social capital of the places it owns and their surroundings and reconnect visitors to this amazingly varied resource. In turn this would stimulate the local circular economy and prosperity. I was so happy to see real cider made in Swindon on sale at Heelis recently that I had to take some home.

Grevel Lindop, Manchester

Sale of local produce. Giving staff and volunteers who live in the locality the opportunity to contribute to policy and presentation. Avoid too much central dictation regarding the minutiae of how properties are managed. Visitors enjoy a sense of the regional, even of the slightly idiosyncratic! Local people know their own properties best.

Caroline Jarrold, Norfolk

The National Trust has been much more effective in doing this in recent years. It really adds to the experience to have local specialities on offer in the restaurants and locally sourced ingredients. I think it should continue to do this and be alert to additional opportunities, for example, if it is relevant to demonstrate particular local building techniques or crafts or recognise local artists (contemporary and historic).