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National Trust devotes record sum to historic buildings and collections conservation in 2022/23

The National Trust dedicated a record amount of funds to the conservation of historic buildings and collections in the last financial year, the charity’s latest Annual Report reveals.

Dyrham Park | © National Trust Images / Barry Batchelor
Dyrham Park | © National Trust Images / Barry Batchelor

A total of £179.6 million was spent on projects large and small, such as the reopening of Northumberland’s Seaton Delaval’s iconic Hall following an ambitious £7.4 million restoration project and the transformation of the Dyrham Park house and estate in Gloucester. New openings post conservation work included the ‘Garden in the ruins’ at Nymans, Sussex, and the first ever Children’s Country House at Sudbury, Derbyshire.

Addressing the impact of climate change and extreme weather was at the forefront of conservation efforts in the more than 22,000 gardens in the Trust’s care. 19 gardens were helped to recover from the damage caused by Storm Arwen and Oxburgh Estate’s historic Parterre Garden was adapted for the challenges of the 21st century, using replacement hedging well-suited to the dry, exposed conditions of that area of Norfolk.

The Trust continued efforts to respond to the impact of climate change and extreme weather inside as well as out. Work to protect historic buildings and archaeological sites included significant work on the conservatory at Cliveden, with improvements needed to the rainwater disposal system and infrastructure, as historic piping and drainage was unable to cope with increased rainfall.

In collections, 13,425 hours were dedicated at the Trust’s Textile Conservation Studio in Blickling and the Royal Oak Foundation Conservation Studio at Knole to the conservation of textiles, furniture, artworks and other items. Textiles from the 1720 Erddig State Bed went on display in a temporary exhibition following the completion of over a thousand hours of major treatment. It has been more than 45 years since people have been able to see these fine examples of early 18th-century Chinese embroidery.

Director-General Hilary McGrady says: “The record funds we dedicated in the last financial year reflects the National Trust’s enduring commitment to the beautiful historic places in its care, and the nation’s enthusiasm for this. We were able to make this significant investment during a particularly difficult economic environment, with rising costs and continued recovery from the pandemic, thanks to the millions of people who support our cause. Despite the challenges, our priority has been preserving the historic houses, buildings, gardens and collections in our care, for current and future generations to enjoy.”

Thanks to the generosity of donors and funders, 2022/23 was also a record year for fundraising, with £117 million raised for core conservation work and improving access to nature, beauty and history. Legacy income exceeded £70 million for the first time, as people continue to remember the Trust in their wills. Onsite fundraising was significantly bolstered by sales through second-hand book shops, with the £2.5 million donated paying for more than 55,000 hours of expert collection conservation.

These donations, along with funds from other sources, supported the National Trust to make a number of highly significant acquisitions on behalf of the nation. Items integral to the history, interpretation and visitor experience at Chirk Castle, Wrexham, were secured: important landscapes, furniture, including a rare survival of Servants’ Hall furniture, family portraits and historical artefacts.

Hilary McGrady continued: “The generosity of our donors, funders and members continues to amaze us. It is only because of them that we can continue the work of the Trust. As well as our conservation programme, we are working hard to make sure that people have access to the quiet and space that our founder, Octavia Hill, knew was so important for people’s physical and mental wellbeing. This has been yet another challenging year, as prices have continued to rise and personal finances have been put under intense pressure. I’m delighted that people are so dedicated to spending their time and money with us during these difficult times, and that the National Trust’s charitable mission continues to resonate deeply with so many people.”

Volunteers continue to be at the heart of the Trust, donating 3.4 million hours in 2022/23. They helped out in historic homes, gardens, second hand book shops and cafés, and supported ranger teams to maintain coast and countryside spaces for the enjoyment of all.

Octavia Hill’s founding vision for the National Trust to preserve land for public benefit and to protect nature is being delivered through the enhancement of green and natural spaces, and the protection of wildlife. More than a million trees had been planted by the end of 2022, each capable of storing one tonne of carbon over their lifetime, and almost 17,000 hectares of new wildlife habitats had been created, in line with the charity’s ambition to establish 20 million trees by 2030.

The Trust has continued its work to support people in urban centres to get closer to nature. In Birmingham, once known as the town ringed by blossom, the Trust planted hundreds of fruit trees at 180 locations, working in partnership with National Express West Midlands. Further north in Manchester, Castlefield Viaduct opened, a free to access urban park in the sky, which in the five months since July 2022 welcomed over 20,000 visitors. In a survey about the Viaduct, 98% of people said they wanted to see it open permanently, 73% said it made them feel part of Manchester and its heritage and 67% of visitors said that it was their main reason for visiting Manchester.

This year, the National Trust, RSPB and WWF worked in partnership to commission the first UK-wide citizens’ assembly for nature. Drawn from across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, the Assembly developed the People’s Plan for Nature, which recommended actions for every part of society.

The National Trust, which welcomed 24.1 million visitors at pay-for-entry places in 2022/23, made 1.7 million single-use free passes available to families during what was a year of financial challenges for many. As well as supporting people who face economic barriers to visiting National Trust sites, the charity invested £3 million in improving infrastructure, facilities and the visitor offer for people with physical access needs. Finally, through an important national and international loans programme, over 750,000 people saw National Trust collections in exhibitions at Falmouth Art Gallery and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, among other venues, in 2022/23.

Other highlights can be found in the 2022/23 Annual Report.

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