Looking after what we've got

Conservation Assistant at work at Osterley Park

Our 10-year strategy, Playing our part, explores four key areas that will ensure we continue to protect the special places we look after. The first is the backbone of everything we do – ‘Looking after what we’ve got.’

At Little Moreton Hall in Cheshire, Ron, the Conservation Cleaner, puts up scaffolding and prepares to tackle the ceiling in the Long Gallery. Volunteers keen to better understand the ‘carpenter marks’ on the room’s high beams take advantage of the scaffolding that brings the marks within their reach. 

A little under an hour away, Lyme is bustling. All its wooden furniture, panelling and floors are being wax-polished in preparation for the new season, and the Mortlake Tapestries are carefully vacuumed.

Across the county, meanwhile, Dunham Massey is recovering from its phenomenally successful two-year transformation into the Stamford Military Hospital. Staff are preparing for post-war life in 2016 by creating a new exhibition, opening the restored stable block and celebrating the 400th anniversary of the watermill.

These are all examples of the love and commitment that go on behind the scenes at the Trust every day. The new ten-year strategy ‘Playing our part’ will ensure such care can continue into the future. Our Director-General Hilary McGrady says such care is precisely the purpose of the area we're focusing on with ‘Looking after what we’ve got’.

Visitors admire tapestries at Hardwick Hall
Visitors admire tapestries at Hardwick Hall
Visitors admire tapestries at Hardwick Hall

‘While it is tempting to think that a new strategy is all about new things, the strength of this one is that it builds on what the Trust already does, makes us examine where we need to get better and pushes us to constantly improve,’ she says. ‘Looking after what we have forms the backbone of everything else we do.’

The sort of work that gets wrapped up in this part of the strategy is wide and varied, and the Trust is putting its money where its mouth is in terms of financial commitment. ‘The National Trust will spend £100 million a year looking after our properties over the ten years of the strategy,’ explains Hilary.

‘Conservation of chattels, repairs to buildings and interiors and land management are all examples of the work that is sometimes taken for granted as simply what we do, yet it is incredibly important to the day-to-day preservation of our places.’

The Trust looks after over 500 historic houses, gardens and parks, ancient monuments and nature reserves, more than 250,000 hectares of countryside and 775 miles of coast.

‘We want to ensure that all our places can start to address their conservation backlog, and we can now take a much longer-term view of our projects,’ says Hilary. ‘I am looking forward to all places having a ten-year investment plan where they can clearly see not only what they need to spend, but plan how to raise the money. We will never have enough to do everything, which is why fundraising is such an important part of everyone’s job – including mine.’

" Looking after what we have forms the backbone of everything else we do."
- Director-General Hilary McGrady

Perhaps the factor with the most dramatic impact on how we look after what we’ve got is climate change. As former Director-General Helen Ghosh said when she launched the strategy, the scientific consensus for the impact of climate change is overwhelming, and each year, we see the impact of extreme weather and higher average temperatures on our places.

‘The reality is that climate change is as much a part of our daily business as visitors coming through the door,’ says Hilary. ‘Our properties are all affected by it in a range of different ways, from the increase in rainfall to tidal surges and the impact on our land. We are playing our part by ensuring we reduce our dependency on fossil fuels and at every property we are constantly looking at ways to seek out energy efficiencies.’

What really makes the difference when it comes to looking after what we’ve got? Hilary believes it is all about people.

‘The Trust is incredibly fortunate to have a fabulous team of experts and people with a deep passion for our cause. Without the staff and volunteers who support us we would not be able to care for our properties to the standard we do, nor welcome the thousands of visitors to our inspirational properties.

‘I think our founders would be proud of this strategy. We are focusing on the heart of what they set out to achieve, but we’re keeping it contemporary.’ 

Conservator at the Textile Studio in Norfolk

Stories from inside the Trust 

A lot goes on behind the scenes at our places to ensure we protect our heritage for ever, for everyone. But we couldn’t do this without our team of devoted experts and volunteers who share a passion for our cause.