Loyal members stand by National Trust in "part-hibernation" year

Press release
A stunning spiral staircase at Seaton Delaval Hall, Northumberland
Published : 31 Aug 2021

Millions of members stuck by the National Trust during its most difficult year, according to the charity’s annual report which is published today.

Figures show the charity retained 84.2 per cent of its membership - about one per cent less than the previous year - despite much of the organisation being put into “hibernation” during the covid pandemic.

The conservation charity’s annual report for 2020/21 also shows its income was £213m below target because of the pandemic. At its height, the charity was forced to close most of its places as well as all its shops, cafes and holiday cottages, and all its events were cancelled, resulting in the number of visits halving from the previous year (13.6m in 2020/21, 28m in 2019/20).

To help recover the impact of this lost income, the charity furloughed up to 81 per cent of its staff - resulting in £53.7m in government furlough payments - and received Covid-related grants totalling £13.8m. As the financial challenge intensified later in the year, the charity announced the biggest cost savings programme in its history, with £94.5m annual savings, initially from non-staff savings and then regrettably from 1,767 redundancies.

The annual report shows that just 15.8 per cent of members decided not to renew – up only 1.2 per cent on the 2019 figure of 14.6 per cent. Overall, the Trust’s membership fell by about half a million (5.95m in 2019/20 and 5.37m in 2020/21), because the charity was unable to carry out membership recruitment at properties during national lockdowns at what would have been its busiest periods, such as Easter. Recruitment of new members fell by more than 60 per cent compared to the previous year.

However, membership is now growing again as the public recognises the need for nature, beauty and history, and since April this year the charity has been signing up, on average, 105,000 new members every month – the equivalent to one every 25 seconds.

The report also reveals the charity saw a 383 per cent increase in online donations totalling £865,000, in August 2020 it broke records when its holiday cottages were almost entirely full (96 per cent occupancy) and its online shop saw sales increase by 65.6 per cent.

The Trust generated about £79m in fundraising, including £44.6m from gifts in wills, £297,665 through its newly-introduced Dedicate a Tree campaign and a £2.92m donation from the American-based Royal Oak Foundation – its largest ever gift.

Despite a challenging year, the charity’s conservation work continued, with it spending £83.8m on projects with almost three quarters of that total (£61.1m) spent on houses, collections and gardens. £22.7m was spent on coast and countryside.

Among the projects benefiting last year were: repair of Chinese silks on Erddig’s state bed in Wales as part of a wider £400k project and a £7.5m restoration at Seaton Delaval Hall in Northumberland supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund which included the re-roofing the West Wing, transformation of the brewhouse into a café, new accessible paths and critical repairs to the iconic cantilever staircases.

The Trust’s Director General Hilary McGrady said: “2020 was a year of firsts for the National Trust. Never before had every single property been forced to close. Almost the whole organisation was put into hibernation, with our staff furloughed and most volunteers asked to pause their support. Lockdown made our day-to-day lives unrecognisable.

“It has been the immense, loyal support from our members, volunteers and donors, as well as some vital public funding, that saw us through the worst of what has been a terrible year for so many. It’s remarkable that, despite so many property closures and other challenges last year, we have retained almost the same number of members as we do in any normal year.

“Our supporters have really stuck by us, whether that is staying with us as members or offering record-breaking online donations, and for that I am so grateful.

“While the recruitment of new members usually helps us grow our supporter base every year, the closure of our places meant this was impossible, and so recruitment almost completely ground to a halt. Now that most of our places have reopened and we’re recovering from the pandemic, the early signs are hugely encouraging. But as a charity we will feel the financial repercussions for some years to come.”

Read the National Trust's Annual Report