National Trust

Calke Abbey – dual standards?

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I am a big fan of the National Trust and what it does in terms of preserving our heritage and also providing very pleasant destinations for a few hours walk or similar. As a family we have been members for many years and I do feel it provides great value for money.

Recent years have seen the Trust move towards increasingly more open and commercial approaches to their property management and ‘offer’. Some see this as a negative thing – but I don’t agree, it has made the properties far more popular and busy, they have to move with the times to survive and fund the works to their portfolio of properties and estates.

In many places the retail offer has been expanded to increase the provision of food and drinks – either by way of new cafe or restaurant premises within the properties themselves or in adjacent outbuildings. This is always done in a sensitive manner in keeping with the property and its environment – just as the National Trust do most things.

The new cafe
The new cafe

Calke Abbey which is one of my favourite local NT properties is a classic case in this regard, it is very popular and the restaurant has been ‘creaking’ for a number of years. There is an area to the rear of the restaurant which has been used as a picnic area for years and it has buildings around it which have cried out for refurbishing for a cafe use or similar for years. Finally last year this work was completed and there is now a very smart cafe in this area – and it has been completed in a very sensitive way to fit in with the surrounding buildings – well done National Trust.

However I am at a loss to understand why all hot drinks from here are served in disposable paper cups – this is surely totally at odds with the Trust’s ‘ethics’? One thing that is always noticeable at a NT property is the lack of bins – they expect people to take their rubbish home with them (which most do). So why have they now chosen to use something which I accept probably can be recycled but is surely nowhere as ‘green’ as using traditional crockery and then washing it?

Or am I missing something?

Almost World Class

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This last weekend the wife and I have been on what could be described as a bit of a personal pilgrimage (for me) – we have been to Wiltshire. More accurately we have been down to the area around Salisbury and Stonehenge, this is where I was born (Salisbury, not Stonehenge) so the area has a certain draw for me still. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the things I was looking forward to from our trip was seeing the new Stonehenge visitors centre (and the ‘improved’ area around Stonehenge itself). I was not disappointed by the new building, it is quite something, and quite ‘out there’ as far as buildings used by English Heritage go. It has some great features and somehow ‘fits in’ to the open landscape that is Salisbury Plain. Stonehenge is without doubt a World Class ‘attraction’ – it is after all a World Heritage site, so it is up there with some fairly impressive competition – The Pyramids at Giza, The Taj Mahal, The Vatican – you get the idea. So I applaud what has been achieved here, the centre is amazing and the improved landscape around the stones created by closing and removing the road past has made it feel much more ‘rural’. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHowever I get the feeling that English Heritage just aren’t used to running such a high profile site. As I have said the building is great, but the staff (who are all dressed in their corporate uniforms) just aren’t enthusiastic – or dare I say it – friendly and polite. Also there is a ‘land train’ that takes you the mile and a half down to the stones themselves. This is very slick and comprises three carriages pulled by a Land-rover, which somehow feels just right for the location. But, although there is a full PA system in the land train it isn’t made use of it to tell the visitors about the site and build the moment before it comes into view (the new visitor centre is well away from the stones). If this was an attraction in the USA the trip there would be used to set the scene, not just to inform you the trip will take 5 to 7 minutes and not to open the windows! Yes there is an audio tour you can take, and the audio visual in the centre really is first class. But for an adult ticket at £14.90, (concession £13.40, child £8.90 and family £38.70) I personally expect just a bit more?

Getting to grips with it…..

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Around Christmas I splashed out on a new camera – an Olympus EM-5 – it was a bit of an extravagant move, but I felt it would help me further develop my photography which had been in the doldrums for a number of years until I purchased an Olympus PEN EP-1 a few years ago. The time was right for the next step…..

I was right and have been amazed by the cameras capability to produce stunning results even in my hands! It is well up there with the quality of a full frame digital SLR (it is a 4/3rds camera). And it has allowed me to hopefully develop my artistic side a bit more….

This photo was taken at the orangery at Calke Abbey in March, I quite like it, especially the way the shadows run…..


Another great job by the National Trust

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As a family we have been National Trust members for over 10 years, we joined when our kids were small as we found that a visit to a NT property was a great day out for the kids (and parents). I am a big fan of what the Trust does, they have their detractors, but someone has to manage and maintain these bits of history and countryside for us – and they do a good job.

20121021-103354.jpgWe joined all those years ago at Chedworth Roman Villa in The Cotswolds, as a site it is near my late Mothers house, so was a good stop off when visiting her. It also proved invaluable as a venue for the kids when they were doing the Romans at school.

It would however be fair to say that the site hadn’t changed much since the roman mosaics were uncovered in Victorian times – it was a bit tired! Well that has now been addressed and a new building now sits over the Roman remains which allows access on a par (but a smaller scale) to the Roman remains in Bath.

The building is also very sympathetic to the local environment, so all in all another excellent job by the National Trust – and well worth a visit!

National Trust garden app.

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I am a big fan of the National Trust – they do a lot of good saving our heritage and managing vast areas of our countryside. They are also becoming far more ‘modern’ in their outlook – their first iPhone app came out a year or more ago and is excellent for finding places to visit when out on the road.

Well now they have a second app, and this one is very clever and quite ‘with it’ for a body like the National Trust.

The reason? It uses augmented reality – now this is something that is becoming more common – we have it in a number of the house sale apps. You open the app, do a search for your current location and then using the camera as you look around the screen shows you what houses are available in each direction – clever!

Well the National trust app uses this idea to give information in its gardens as you walk around – simple but very clever and helpful. The only available guide at the moment is for Stourhead but more will follow – I cannot wait to try them!

Just goes to show that very ‘traditional’ companies or organisations can embrace technology effectively as well as ‘leading edge’ companies.

Tyntesfield – worth a visit

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with scaffolding

This last weekend we visited my mother in Wiltshire. As is always the case we try to find something we can do with her while we are down there. She is 86, needs a wheelchair to get anywhere, but enjoys seeing things – she still has ‘all her marbles’!

About 18 months ago we all visited Tyntesfield near Bristol. This is a property saved around 5 or 6 years ago by the National Trust. It is ‘special’ as it is a ‘time capsule’ of late Victorian and early Edwardian life and architecture. It was the subject of an appeal to save it by the Trust with spectacular success.

It did however need some urgent repairs – in particular the roof and services. On our first visit this was being dealt with and the property was therefore completely covered in scaffolding (including a false roof) and mostly in accessible internally. It was the largest scaffolding job in the UK apparently!

However following the repair work the scaffolding came off this spring, so a visit was in order!

as it is now

The difference is amazing, and the quality of the work carried out to the exterior is superb, However it is the interior that now offers so much to see.

There are some fabulous Victorian features such as the fully automated scoring system for the billiards table, worked from buttons on the table linked to the electric score board!

Or the early ventilation system in the rooms (due to the use of gas lighting).

Or, my personal favorite, the glazing system and action in the kitchen garden green houses and orangery. Installed at the time of Queen Victorias 60th Jubilee and still working perfectly today. It also uses no putty, but is totally sealed still – the Victorians were amazing engineers!

It is well worth a look, if you are in the area drop in.

If you aren’t a National Trust member why not join while you are there?

The National Trust and our forests

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Our Government are currently proposing one of the biggest changes in land ownership for more than 80 years it has been described as ‘watershed moment in the history of the nation’ – possibly not an exaggeration.

The proposed sell off of the forests that have until now been managed for the nation by the Forestry Commission is not going to raise significant funds (in real terms), but may stop public access for most people. This has not been popular!

The government has met fierce resistance to its plans to dispose of 258,000 hectares. It plans to hand roughly 25% of the most treasured woodland over to new or existing trusts, offer communities and charities the right to buy a further 25%, with the rest being put on the open market over a period of years. However, strong objections have been raised over whether access and ecological quality will be guaranteed. By this weekend 288,000 people had signed a petition to halt the disposal.

Luckily the National Trust is now poised to offer to take over or buy much of the state-owned English woodland which the government is planning to sell off.

The initiative, could protect in perpetuity not just large areas of “heritage” areas such as the Forest of Dean and the New Forest, but other woodland expected to be offered for sale to communities and commercial enterprises.

The National Trust are ideally positioned to take on this task, for 116 years they have helped to save the places the people of this country most value when their existence, or access to them, has been threatened. If the government is determined to pursue the course of action it has outlined (and it seems it will) then the public have to hope that the National Trust step in.

I am a big fan of the National Trust and what they have achieved over the years, if the proposed sell off does happen I really do hope the National Trust are involved to some degree. 2011 is also the International Year of the Forest, so lets not make the UK the ‘bad boys’ during the year of celebration for our woodlands!

National Trust win Renewable Energy award

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The National Trust are probably not the first name that springs to mind when it comes to being ‘green’ (apart from their logo). However over the last few years the Trust have been making serious efforts to improve their green credentials, and also as a byproduct save money.   

Their new headquarters building in Swindon ‘Heelis’ was a brave move for such a ‘conservative’ organisation. It is architecturally very modern, but also extremely ‘green’ – being expected to generate just 15kg of carbon dioxide per square metre per year compared to 169kg for a typical air-conditioned office.    

This, and the trusts other work has now been acknowledged by the Renewable Energy Association (REA) at its annual awards event in London.    

The Trust has been awarded the ‘Pioneer Award’ (made to an organisation outside the sustainable energy industry, pioneering the use of renewable fuels, heat or power) from a shortlist of four high-profile contenders. The trust were recognised for 140 renewable projects already installed at its properties, and for its  new energy commitments;   

1. To reduce  reliance on fossil fuels by 50%  by 2020.    

2. To reduce overall energy consumption by 20% by 2020 (from 2009 levels).     

PV's at Kynance


Renewable energy projects that are already in place include innovative photovoltaic solar slates at Kynance Cove in Cornwall and an Archimedes screw hydro turbine at Bonfield Ghyll in the North Yorkshire Moors.   

More impressively they have also successfully managed to install 24 photovoltaic panels on the roof of the Grade I listed Dunster Castle in Somerset which in sunny weather provide most of the castle’s daily electricity requirements.   

PV's on Dunster Castle


Biomass boilers have also replaced oil-fired boilers at 44 sites of their sites, including the new visitor reception and tea-room at Scotney Castle in Kent.   

 The new energy commitment, announced in February this year, will be achieved by continuing to use a mix of solar, hydro and wind and replacing oil-fired heating with wood fuel bio-mass boilers and heat pumps, even in sensitive locations (as evidenced by the solar panels at Dunster Castle).   

Each property is accessed to find the best energy solution, tailor it to them, and make the most of their own natural resources.    

Head of sustainability and environmental practices at the Trust said:    

‘Winning this award is great recognition for what we’ve achieved so far, and how we’re using cutting edge technology in the most unlikely places. The aim to become self-reliant on our own energy sources for heating and electricity, providing renewable energy to our communities and neighbours where we can. Our overwhelming desire is to come off oil completely.
We care for some of the most iconic and sensitive buildings in the UK, so if we can achieve our goals, anyone can. We’ve achieved our desire to use renewable technologies through the careful selection of technologies, and considering the conservation of the building, aesthetics and performance. 
That is why, for example we have been able to install solar panels on the roofs of some of our Grade 1 and 2 Listed Buildings or a ground heat collector in a Site of Special Scientific Interest tidal mudflat or small wind turbine in a National Park.’ 

This is an excellent example of a business looking to its current property portfolio and seeing how it can make it greener and better managed. Most of the  projects have also been funded either by npower or the Big Lottery Fund, thereby saving the Trusts reserves for large capital repair and maintenance projects.

Abbey Road Studios

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Recent reports that EMI are looking to sell Abbey Road studios in London has had an amazing impact on the social media sites. The studios have an almost iconic status in the music world having been the home to the Beatles and a number of other famous bands.

It should be noted at this point that EMI have not actually confirmed that they are looking to sell, but the assumption has been made in the press that this is the case. Real momentum has been put behind the idea of the studios being saved after Chris Evans suggested on air on his Radio 2 morning show that perhaps the National Trust could step in and save the property for the nation.

To their credit the National Trust have picked up on this suggestion and have a page on their website asking the question ‘should the National Trust try to save the iconic Abbey Road Studios?’

The Trust are tasked with preserving historic buildings and are best known for their historic castles and stately homes. However they already have a link to the Beatles as they own both John Lennon’s and Sir Paul McCartney’s childhood homes in Liverpool. I believe this is an excellent idea, the Trust are asking people to let them know if it is something they feel is worth supporting by letting them know via all forms of social media – a first for such an organisation.

The Trust have a record for being able to raise funds in a short period of time following an appeal. In 2002 they started an appeal to save Tyntesfield near Bristol, a Victorian Gothic Revival Country House which was a time capsule of its era. In 100 days they raised £8,200,000, enabling it to be saved. In 2006 they received a further £20,000,000 in lottery funding and were able to proceed with repairs, including the complete re-roofing, re-wiring and re-plumbing of the premises.

Estimates of the value of Abbey Road are varied, but range from £10M to £30M, whatever the figure this could be a fantastic purchase for the Trust, visitors to the crossing outside (famous from the Beatles album cover – but not part of the sale) are a regular stop on tours of London. Adding a visit into the studios would be the obvious next step!

Lets hope that it starts to appear high on the Twitter trends and on Facebook!

UPDATE 21st February 2010 – The Estates Gazette reports this week that Simon Cowell has come together with his property investor brother to consider buying the studios. Interest appears to be hotting up with Sony, Universal, Warner Music and Disney all expressing an interest. Interesting times ahead!

UPDATE 2 – 21st February 2010 – EMI have now confirmed that Abbey Road is not up for sale. End of the story?………….