Tuesday blog at the Eisteddfod
Somebody once said, “If you’re not open to constructive criticism, then you’re not open to truly growing as a person.” I guess that the same thing could be said about organisations.
This was the thought behind our invitation to Andrew Green, the former librarian of the National Library of Wales and influential critic and blogger to give one of today’s Shed Talks at the Eisteddfod. Nevertheless, it was with some trepidation that I stood up to introduce Andrew this morning. After all, his criticism of organisations such as the old Wales Tourist Board for using, as he saw it, old-fashioned and stereotypical concepts of Wales, are well known.
He wisely started by praising not only the success of the Trust as a conservation organisation, but also the passion, skill and professionalism of its staff in Wales. He also acknowledged the outstanding role that the Trust has played in safeguarding and caring for 157 miles of the Welsh coast and so much of our wonderful countryside.
Having established these reassuring facts he launched into his main thesis, that the Trust doesn’t fully reflect the culture of Wales. The organisation in Wales is a branch of a larger centralised organisation based in Swindon which doesn’t understand Wales sufficiently. He then set out the evidence to support his thesis. Rather than take a lot of space here, perhaps I should quickly tick them off in the order he set them up. The Trust mainly cares for the houses of the aristocracy; its properties are unevenly distributed leaving places like the South Wales valleys without any Trust presence; its range of properties are not representative of Welsh life (e.g. no chapels, which are being lost at a rate of one a week) and it doesn’t care for the houses of ‘Y Werin’ the working class backbone of Welsh culture; and similarly, Wales’ place as the world’s first industrial country is not adequately represented. Andrew’s solution is to break free the parent organisation and form an independent National Trust for Wales.
To be honest, the points he makes are familiar to those of us who are striving to ensure the relevance of the Trust’s places to the people of Wales and it is addressing many of his observations in its Wales plan. A plan, incidentally, that is written by the Welsh team to do precisely what Andrew is urging: for the Trust to become more relevant for the people of Wales. Having said that, I think that Andrew and I can agree to disagree on the point of cutting ties with the rest of the Trust. Like most charities busy in Wales we need the finance, the wealth of expertise and the clout that being part of a larger international organisation brings.