However, I am deeply concerned that among the posts it plans to abolish are those of many of the regional specialist and lead curators and its national specialists (curators for furniture, pictures and sculpture, libraries, decorative arts, textiles, and photography etc).
It is hard to believe that these wonderful collections can be adequately cared for without in-house specialists.
The proposed redundancies should be seen within a wider context of the National Trust’s new aim to scale down its role as a major cultural institution and repurpose many of its properties.
It is strange that these changes were not mentioned in the press release at the end of July when the Trust promised to “refocus its efforts to protect cultural heritage, with limited cuts to staff caring for houses, gardens and collections”.
If, like me, you feel that this very radical shift in emphasis deserves a wider public debate, not least among its 5.6m members, I would urge you to write to firstname.lastname@example.org marked for the attention of director general Hilary McGrady with the subject line: ‘National Trust curatorial redundancies – FAO the Director General’.
Name and address supplied
A spokesperson for the National Trust responded:
We have reviewed every aspect of the charity and we propose to make savings – both pay and non-pay – in almost every area of activity.
All proposals are subject to a 45- day consultation process so it would be premature and unfair to comment on specific roles at this stage.
To maintain conservation standards, the Trust is capping spending cuts where staff are involved in caring for houses, gardens, collections and countryside. We’re doing all we can to support those who may be affected by the proposed changes.
We’d be happy to help with more information once the plans have been finalised in late September.
Our alarm over the National Trust proposals
Copy of a letter from Roger Treglown, president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, to the National Trust:
The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association is alarmed by the National Trust’s new 10- year plan, which appears to remove most of their specialist curatorial staff and place even more of their collections in storage.
This plan has not been published and we have only the information available from articles published this week in The Times and Spectator, together with a statement by the Historic Libraries Forum.
These are sweeping changes and if the Trust has confidence in its proposals we urge you to circulate them in full without further loss of time. We note that this plan appears to contradict the Trust’s press release of July 29, which stated that cuts to staff working with collections would be limited.
We appreciate that the Trust faces a significant shortfall this year (the figure in circulation is £200m) but question how much can be saved by making specialist curators redundant, and how that saving compares to any cash reserves held.
We fear that the removal of specialist curators will significantly reduce the Trust’s capacity to care for its collections appropriately and make them both visible and accessible, while making a negligible difference to its financial position.
Even where items remain on public view, skilled interpretation by specialists is of inestimable value in ensuring that they are appreciated by the widest possible audience.
As booksellers we are especially concerned about the 600,000 volumes housed across 180 National Trust sites (source for numbers: Historic Libraries Forum statement).
These are collections of national and international importance. In recent decades the Trust has appreciated this and made great strides in cataloguing its books and making them accessible to scholars by participating in online databases such as the English Short Title Catalogue and Jisc Library Hub Discover.
We are only just beginning to understand the importance of these diverse collections, both as individual books and entire libraries which survive in situ, offering incomparable insights into how these books were used and read across centuries.
These regressive proposals threaten to undermine this valuable achievement.
Many of these houses and their contents barely survived the 20th century – that they did, and moreover were made accessible to scholarship and the public – was in large part due to the Trust’s work.
The Trust appears on the verge of ensuring that they vanish from public view and use in the 21st.