Plans at Osterley Park met with controversy when they revealed their strategies for a new adventure playground, treasure hunt trails and high tech interactive boards for visiting young adults and students.
Harry Mount has argued that these changes are completely unnecessary, labelling it as a ‘dumbing-down of the National Trust…all in the name of interpretation…accessibility…and story-telling’.
Is this all just a slight overreaction?
For years, the National Trust have been an organisation spearheaded by the older generation. Applications are long, laborious and rather overly selective for working at the estates, and from personal experience, young people are rarely selected, as each room contains an elderly man or woman snapping at you for touching a folder they have placed on the table for you to look through in the first place.
There is also an immeasurable level of superiority, as National Trusts Estates have become an activity for the elderly, not for the young.
As a history student, I enjoy the time to look around and explore properties such as the ones refurbished and restored by the trust, and in my opinion, it is pleasant to see young children and fellow students just as interested as I am.
Adventure play parks and treasure hunts, from chocolate egg hunts in the Easter to pumpkin carving in the autumn may have little to do with the history of the house, but they get children outside, running around in the estate parks and enjoying themselves.
Cafes and ice cream shops, picnic benches and re-enactments are all areas of the National Trust that need to be championed and encouraged as they make history fun and accessible for everyone.
It all comes down to choice and self-interpretation, one is welcome to stop and read and admire in the house, just as someone else is welcome to run down to the dungeons to chat to the re-enactment people about medieval warfare.
Mount has claimed that he has never once seen a child stop and read the activities on offer to them, or admire the facts painted on the wall, but this is simply not true.
Children run all over the place in National Trust properties, and get particularly excited by treasure hunt trails and picking out key items in each room.
people always ask me why I am here, like it should be a punishment or something
Mount is now labelling curators and workers at the trust who refuse the plans as ‘brave’, stating that they should hold onto the traditions, yet is this really worth doing for traditions that simply are not inclusive and are rather judgemental?
Last year, the National Trust reportedly put around one million pounds into the trust to encourage young people to join and get involved, yet these activities are simply volunteering projects such as gardening, and concerning jobs for young people and the National Trust, are of little help.
Young people are needed, whether it’s running new and exciting social media platforms through to placing enthusiastic history graduates in each room to chat to people visiting. Whether it’s more interactive whiteboards, more magazines and blogs, more curators and more activities, the trust needs young people, and simply shaming their efforts to put this into motion speaks of the selfish attitude they represent currently.
Speaking to a history and law student recently, I was shocked to hear that she is frequently asked questions concerning why she is based at a National Trust property ‘people always ask me why I am here, like it should be a punishment or something’.
Further claims were made by fellow history students, including a student who was told by her mum that she was too young to become a member of the trust.
The outdated approach of the National Trust was displayed earlier this year, when 240 members quit the trust after volunteers were instructed to wear rainbow lanyards to commemorate the history of gay pride and the history of persecution against homosexuals, as well as being in memory of the late Lord of the manor, who was gay.
The trust soon had to repeal this requirement, as hundreds of members recalled their membership.
The Trust also came under fire from its members and employees after its involvements with the University of Leicester, for helping to train volunteers in confidence and support, as members expressed their dislike of sourcing students directly from the university without taking other people into account.
The young people, from teenagers to students, do not need history to be dumbed down for them. That is insulting. Likewise children do not need to be subjected to pages of information and dull activities. That is boring.
To call themselves an established business, The National Trust need to recognise all ages, employ more graduates and be prepared to welcome technology, new activities and social media in order to make history more accessible for everyone.