In Cambridge – a lovely town with an international reputation for education – it was appropriate that the delegates to the 16th International Conference of National Trusts (ICNT) took in the charms of the East of England while also gathering so many valuable lessons from instructors both local and global.
All in all – to use the British equivalent of great – it has been a brilliant week!
The opening day’s remarks set the stage for discussions throughout the week. Dame Helen Ghosh – Director General of the National Trust for England, Wales & Northern Ireland – began by reminding the delegates of the need to be open to change as we seek to conserve our heritage. Jonathon Porritt challenged many of the assumptions the delegates brought to Cambridge, in a speech on our environmental challenges that was referenced throughout the week.
Tuesday took Candice and me along with half of the delegates to Wimpole Estate, for conversations around cultural identities. This emphasis arose from the 15th ICNT in Entebee, Uganda, in 2013, which raised the need to recognize intangible heritage to new levels within the National Trust community. The National Trust of England, Wales & Northern Ireland has placed renewed emphasis on the Spirit of Place principle, and we had good conversations around how our work reveals and shares the significance of place and ensures that their special qualities are “protected, enhanced, understood, and enjoyed by present and future generations.” Our focus at NTHP on how the “period of significance is now” was raised by others who heard my comments on the topic on Monday.
Wednesday the entire conference delegation headed to Bury St. Edmunds and the restored Theatre Royal. A working theatre and National Trust site, Theatre Royal was the setting for a presentation by my friend and partnership colleague Tim McClimon from the American Express Foundation, as well as Kate Mavor, the recently named Chief Executive of English Heritage Trust. (I’ve worked a bit with Kate previously when she was CEO of the National Trust for Scotland.) Both were eloquent in speaking of the ways to increase participation in preservation.
Our time at Theatre Royal was followed by an afternoon and evening at the magnificent National Trust property Ickworth. There we mixed long tours with more sessions around growing the movement. Candice and I especially enjoyed the hike down to the Ickworth Church and the walled gardens.
Thursday’s sessions for our discussion groups began at Anglesey Abbey and then moved to Wicken Fen for conversations around land, landscape and nature, before we returned to Wimpole Estate for dinner and a barn dance.
At Wicken Fen – a nature preserve – our conversations and tours focused on landscape and urban scale conservation. An ambitious project with a 100-year time frame, Wicken Fen and the beautiful wetlands proved to be a delightful place for these discussions. The National Trust’s Stuart Warrington was an especially effective speaker and moderator on this topic.
Friday came much too soon, as we gathered back in Cambridge for the final sessions and farewell. Barbara Erickson of the Trustees of Reservations started the morning with an impressive overview of the work of this Massachusetts-based organization that was a precursor – and inspiration – for the National Trust in England, Wales & Northern Ireland more than 100 years ago. Barbara is leading the Trustees to move more toward its original mission for both land and heritage conservation – once again proving that sometimes we must go “back to the future” as we change our work in the 21st century. I feel our work in the U.S. has become too segmented and hope to speak and write about the need for whole place preservation in the months ahead.
Ben Cowell, our host from the East of England, and Catherine Reynolds, the Secretary-General of INTO, provided reflections on the conference before Dame Fiona Reynolds – the newly elected Chairman of INTO – wrapped up the conference. Fiona focused on the family nature of INTO and the National Trust movement, noting that families are best when they include all members great and small; the need to celebrate our successes across the organization; and finally the urgency of expanding our voice for heritage on the global stage. A handoff to the Indonesian Heritage Trust – which will host the 17th ICNT in 2017 in Bali – wrapped up the week.
Many thanks to the staff and volunteers of the National Trust for England, Wales & Northern Ireland for a wonderful week full of charms and lessons. It was simply brilliant!
More to come…