Connecting people and places – reflecting on our role in civil society

In 1907, an Act of Parliament set up the National Trust ‘for the benefit of the nation’. A century on, we’re thinking about what this means and how we can play our part in civil society today. This week, we responded to the Government’s wide ranging consultation on its Civil Society Strategy. In this blog Laura Mason shares some of the work taking place at the National Trust in this space.

©National Trust Images/Megan Taylor

At a recent conference, the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, Matt Hancock, set out the reasons for launching the consultation. He spoke of 2018 as a time of great change, which is creating a yearning for belonging and place – and connection to places. He also spoke of an ambition to create a more connected society. We share that aspiration.

Earlier this year we published research that revealed the depth of people’s connection with places. Based on pioneering brain-scanning techniques at the University of Surrey, the results showed the physical reactions we have to special places that mean something to us. The research helps us to understand the role our places can have in the physical and mental well-being of the people who visit them.

Our consultation response highlighted some of the great ways that National Trust places have been connecting with their local communities, and how we might do so in the future.  Here’s just a few.

People

The National Trust couldn’t protect the places we all love without the support of our 62,000 volunteers. And it’s a mutually beneficial relationship – we seek to help our volunteers enrich their communities by coming together to protect special places. At Rainham Hall in Havering, for instance, we co-curated exhibitions with local people and community groups.

These change every two years to focus on a different part of the hall’s history, creating plenty of opportunities for involvement. The current exhibition is based entirely on memories captured via an oral history project from people who attended a state-run day nursery for local children between 1943 and 1954.

Co-curating with the community enables us to build a sense of belonging and create a shared space, bringing people together through heritage. We believe every area has a heritage asset that could similarly become a source of civic pride for a community to rally around.

Our Green Academies Project seeks to galvanise young people to protect their local green spaces. We believe that many young people are passionate about protecting their local environment, and we act as a convener, providing structures and spaces to allow them to pursue their passions collectively. We seek to use the GAP project to demonstrate the importance of the environment in ways that truly resonate with younger audiences. At Morden Hall Park, for instance, we work with Tooting and Mitcham Football Club. By demonstrating that well managed drainage ditches and trees are important to stop the pitch flooding, we can encourage direct environmental action – as well as teaching young people about the value of a holistic approach to looking after the landscape.

Partnership

Partnership working is core to everything the Trust does. These can be small scale, highly local partnerships nurtured by our operational staff on the ground, or they can be big, strategic connections built at the national level. We are an almost unique delivery partner, because we can offer a truly local place-based approach, with successful attributes scaled up across a national network. Partnership working allows us to reach beyond our core purpose and reach new, or different, audiences.

For instance, Potter and Ponder is a partnership between local special schools, the National Trust and the Heritage Lottery Fund at Croome, which co-created a new sensory experience in conjunction with 35 children with profound learning, physical and medical needs. This has opened up a new experience at Croome for future visitors with similar needs.

Other partnerships are about the health benefits of engaging with the natural world. At Wimpole Home Farm in Cambridgeshire, our Farming Memories group supports those in the early stages of dementia with a background in agriculture, and their carers, through supported farming activities. This is run through a partnership with Care Network.

The Human Henge project is a partnership between the Restoration Trust, English Heritage, the National Trust and Bournemouth University. It seeks to explore the mental health benefits of facilitated access to heritage at Stonehenge and Avebury. It allows people facing mental health challenges to come together and access an historic landscape together, led by different experts.

Place

The Places Where People Live strand of our ten year strategy seeks to protect and enhance the quality of the places people by directly engaging with local residents and partnering with community groups. It is an approach that seeks to help communities find sustainable ways to manage the places they value themselves.

In Birmingham, we’ve partnered with the Canals and Rivers Trust to set up a new partnership to save the Roundhouse, a Grade IIA* listed property which is a key industrial heritage site. A grant is being used to deliver the capital restoration works, but sustainable funding will be achieved by opening the site to visitors and leasing some of the space to businesses.

Elsewhere in Birmingham, we are helping local people secure a future for the Moseley Road Baths through a Charitable Incorporated Organisation (CIO). We hope that we can learn from these models and help many more communities protect the heritage they value.

Find out more about how our places bring people together on our website.

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