Scotland’s leading conservation charity faces a huge task maintaining Scotland’s historic buildings and landscapes for future generations
Without proper care and maintenance, Scotland’s historic buildings are at risk of becoming derelict, graffiti-ridden ruins, according to the National Trust for Scotland (NTS). A common misconception exists that NTS is only responsible for 129 stately homes and castles – a manageable job for one organisation. But the reality is very different.
NTS is responsible for over 1,500 buildings and structures, over 75,000 hectares of land, more than one million items – from a single teacup to nationally important paintings and furniture, – and 35 major gardens. Taking this into account, the scale of the task becomes daunting.
NTS director of conservation services, Terry Levinthal, said the organisation relies on fundraising and charitable donations to survive.
The charity’s latest fundraising campaign, ‘I’m in it for the future’, is one of several run throughout the year.
Levinthal said: “It is inevitable that all buildings will decay. Just as with a car, if you don’t undertake routine maintenance and keep it in good working order, it will deteriorate and become much more expensive to keep on the road. With a building, if you do not keep up routine maintenance and stay on top of issues as they appear, there can be occasions when it simply becomes far too expensive in cash terms, without a significant external output of resources, to keep that building going. The Buildings at Risk register is a good example of a collection of buildings that are really suffering because that investment hasn’t been made.
“The I’m in it for the future campaign is in recognition of the fact that NTS is a charity. The simple fact of the matter is, for us to conserve those buildings and those landscapes which have been placed in our care, we need to fundraise.
We look after a wide heritage portfolio, which covers not just the built heritage but iconic landscapes as well.
“Even in the simplest of terms, it costs the trust £600,000 annually just to comply with legislative requirements that we need to meet, such as boiler checks and fire alarm tests. We are keen to get this message out there because we look after so much. To give an example, Culzean Castle, which is one of our flagship properties, is an outstanding example of a neo-classical house by Robert Adam. People have that in their heads as being a single property, but actually, Culzean also has 274 other buildings and structures on the site which we are also responsible for conserving and maintaining. There is a country park, a whole range of gardens, we have agricultural land we need to manage and within the castle there are collections to look after. Ultimately it is not just the scale of what the NTS is responsible for, it is the fact that we are responsible for so many different aspects of our heritage, from a painting to a building, to a landscape. That is why this latest fundraising initiative is designed to get people to recognise that. It does cost money.” In November, the trust’s chief executive Kate Mavor wrote to NTS members and other interested parties, asking them to donate.
She said: “Places like Culzean, Culloden and Glencoe are part of the fabric of the nation, and each in its own way tells the stories of how we in Scotland came to be who we are now. For that reason, we cannot afford to take any of this rich heritage for granted and assume someone else will always take responsibility for it.
“In my letter I have painted a nightmare scenario in which a place like Culzean is allowed to fall into disrepair and eventually crumbles to a graffiti-ridden hulk, the memories, history and shared culture it represents lost forever. That has happened all too often in the past to all sorts of heritage properties. Even a small donation can prevent this prospect from becoming a reality.” Things have not always been plain sailing for the trust. In recent years the organisation has encountered serious financial problems, prompting NTS to commission an independent root and branch review, led by former Holyrood presiding officer George Reid, which was published last year. It made a number of recommendations and in response, the charity published a five-year plan to “secure the future of Scotland’s past”.
Sir Kenneth Calman, chairman of NTS, said: “Since the publication of the independent review, an incredible amount has been achieved by the dynamic new board of trustees and senior management team. Reforms, careful evaluation and fresh thinking have enabled us to be in a position to publish this new strategy and set in train the process of awakening ‘the sleeping warrior’ that is the trust. We are ready and prepared for a new era of innovation, engagement and advocacy for the natural, built and cultural heritage that makes Scotland so special and unique. As we looked at each of the sites we care for in depth, we came to understand just how much opportunity there is in each. As a board we saw no need to consider the disposal of major heritage properties – instead we can unlock their potential in order to secure their ongoing conservation for future generations.” A number of priorities have been identified, including making changes and efficiencies necessary to achieve financial stability, so the trust has a springboard to develop new projects and a sustained, international fundraising campaign.
NTS also wants to increase membership and convince a wider range of people to identify with the trust and the cause of conserving, cherishing and protecting Scotland’s heritage.
George Reid said: “NTS now has a clear statement of vision and priorities – a firm foundation for the future. I particularly welcome the board’s commitment to strengthen its unrestricted reserves within five years, the work done in building a database of assets, and the opportunity to trial new forms of working at local level. There are still difficult choices to be made, but I am much encouraged by the more collegial approach at both board and senior management levels.” Despite the financial issues, membership numbers have increased in recent years. Terry Levinthal added: “It is very positive that people are sticking with us. Membership is the largest single resource into the organisation and it is tremendously important. The fact that it is growing, slowly but steadily, is a really positive message. We have also had some really outstanding legacies and donations coming in over the past few years – it is very difficult to plan for those but it is positive that people are gifting to the trust in that kind of way. In properties where we have retail facilities and cafes, we have noticed that the spend is down or at least inconsistent, which has been a trend which most visitor attractions have seen across the UK.
“Our heritage is a very important cultural identifier for the nation. It is a place where we can see and tangibly engage with our history and our past, and learn about it. That makes it all the more important we keep it in good nick.
Secondly, there is also a very sound sustainable argument for conserving our architecture. In today’s environment where we all want to make the most out of the money we have available to us, knocking something down, throwing it in the skip and building something new really doesn’t make sense. Increasingly, as more and more research is undertaken, we are recognising that the embodied energies that exist within architectural heritage are very significant indeed.
“We have already invested in them [our existing buildings], so to keep them operating as long as we can, even though it might mean needing to amend and adapt them to new uses, is one of the soundest sustainable development arguments which exist.”