National Trust members concerned over charity’s ‘woke agenda’ demand creation of watchdog


National Trust members concerned over charity’s ‘woke agenda’ demand creation of independent watchdog to make it more ‘accountable’

  • Campaigners are wrestling power away from the Trust’s chairman and board 
  • The pushback comes amid claims the charity is succumbing to a ‘woke agenda’
  • In a report, the National Trust linked Churchill’s former home to the slave trade
  • Another incident saw National Trust volunteers forced to wear gay pride colours
  • Anti-woke members want to see voting reform and the creation of a watchdog

Campaigners concerned by the National Trust’s ‘woke‘ direction are demanding an independent watchdog be created to keep the charity accountable to its members.

It comes after a spate of ‘woke’ controversies involving the National Trust, including the publication of a report linking Winston Churchill’s former home to the slave trade and an attempt to force volunteers at a Norfolk mansion to wear the gay pride rainbow on lanyards and badges.

Restore Trust, an anti-woke group made up of National Trust members, is agitating for the creation of a watchdog as well as the abolition of ‘discretionary voting’ by the chairman at annual meetings.

‘Discretionary voting’ allows the National Trust chairman to vote on behalf of members who have abstained, effectively mustering hundreds or even thousands of ‘don’t know’ ballots to their preferred outcome, according to Restore Trust.

The two resolutions submitted by Restore Trust will be debated at the National Trust’s annual meeting in October, although even if they pass they could be overruled by the charity’s board. 

Restore Trust, an anti-woke group made up of National Trust members, is agitating for the brakes to be put on the National Trust's direction of travel, following the publication of a report in 2020 linking Winston Churchill's former home (pictured), Chartwell, in Kent, with the slave trade

Restore Trust, an anti-woke group made up of National Trust members, is agitating for the brakes to be put on the National Trust’s direction of travel, following the publication of a report in 2020 linking Winston Churchill’s former home (pictured), Chartwell, in Kent, with the slave trade

Without an independent watchdog, complaints about the National Trust's behaviour will continue to be dealt with by the organisation's chairman, who is not seen as independent from the board. Pictured: Polesden Lacey country mansion in Great Bookham, Surrey

Without an independent watchdog, complaints about the National Trust’s behaviour will continue to be dealt with by the organisation’s chairman, who is not seen as independent from the board. Pictured: Polesden Lacey country mansion in Great Bookham, Surrey

Former National Trust chairman Tim Parker got himself into hot water in November 2020 when he made uncritical remarks about Black Lives Matter, while the trust's current director-general Hilary McGrady said 'wokery' is a 'ridiculous term'. Pictured: Ickworth House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Former National Trust chairman Tim Parker got himself into hot water in November 2020 when he made uncritical remarks about Black Lives Matter, while the trust’s current director-general Hilary McGrady said ‘wokery’ is a ‘ridiculous term’. Pictured: Ickworth House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Without an independent watchdog, complaints about the National Trust’s behaviour will continue to be dealt with by the organisation’s chairman, who is not seen as independent from the board.

Former National Trust chairman Tim Parker landed himself in hot water with anti-woke campaigners in November 2020, when he described Black Lives Matter as a ‘human rights movement with no party-political affiliations’ in a letter to a member.

Critics, however, point out Black Lives Matter called on the UK government to ‘defund the police’ and resolved to ‘disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure’ on a since-deleted page on their website.

Tim Parker stepped down after seven years as chairman of the National Trust in May 2021.

Over the next three months, Restore Trust will stage a series of events at National Trust properties – including at Houghton Hall in Norfolk and Shilstone House in Devon –  with sympathetic historians invited along to make the case for putting the brakes on the charity’s increasingly ‘woke’ direction of travel.

The trust was cleared of breaking charity law last year over a report which detailed links between 93 of its properties and historical slavery and colonialism.

Winston Churchill’s former home, Chartwell, in Kent, was among the properties on the list because the wartime Prime Minister once held the post of Secretary of State for the Colonies.

Former National Trust boss Tim Parker landed himself in hot water with anti-woke campaigners in November 2020, when he described Black Lives Matter as a 'human rights movement with no party-political affiliations' in a letter to a member

Former National Trust boss Tim Parker landed himself in hot water with anti-woke campaigners in November 2020, when he described Black Lives Matter as a ‘human rights movement with no party-political affiliations’ in a letter to a member

‘It’s such a ridiculous term, wokery. No one has yet defined what they mean by woke', National Trust's new director-general Hilary McGrady said in May 2022

‘It’s such a ridiculous term, wokery. No one has yet defined what they mean by woke’, National Trust’s new director-general Hilary McGrady said in May 2022 

Following complaints, the Charity Commission opened a case to examine critics’ concerns, but concluded in January this year that the National Trust had acted in line with its charitable purposes and there were no grounds for regulatory action against it.

In 2017, 350 unpaid National Trust assistants at ­Norfolk mansion Felbrigg Hall were told to wear gay pride badges and lanyards or else be removed from front-of-house tasks, triggering a pushback and the resignation of 75 volunteers and the cancellation of 240 memberships. 

The National Trust’s director-general Hilary McGrady said in May she had received ‘death threats’ from people angry at her management of British heritage sites.

Hilary McGrady said the charity ‘epitomises what a lot of people consider to be the halcyon days of Britain’, and ‘anything that vaguely poked at that’ was bound to upset them. 

McGrady said in May: ‘It’s such a ridiculous term, wokery. No one has yet defined what they mean by woke.

‘I’m interested in bringing nature, beauty and history to the nation, and I don’t even know what “woke” means in that context.’

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