“We all want quiet. We all want beauty… Unless we have it, we cannot reach that sense of quiet in which whispers of better things come to us gently.” So wrote Octavia Hill, the social reformer who 126 years ago founded the National Trust. Since then, says Clare Foges in The Times, it has been a tonic for millions of souls. But now it faces a battle for its own. Restore Trust, a band of heritage traditionalists, are “disgruntled” by the charity’s “capitulation to wokeness”, by volunteers being forced to wear gay-pride lanyards, by the trust’s endless dwelling on slavery and colonialism, by its declared intent to be “rigorous in how we reflect changing times, changing attitudes and changing demographies”.
The traditionalists are right. What’s happening is that the trust is picking sides in a “highly polarised debate”, in a way antithetical to its founding purpose, which is to provide peace and respite. “Vacuous corporate speak is always thick with mentions of change, as though this is always a good thing in itself.” But it isn’t – most of us value the National Trust precisely because it doesn’t move with the times. “In today’s world of ugly retail parks [and] uncouth social media exchanges”, we long for “Englishness-in-aspic: are there scones and jams still for tea? And gardens bright with lupins and flocks, and genteel custodians in Laura Ashley skirts… We do not want the trust to reflect the modern world, but to be a refuge from it.”