'A puerile and irrelevant project': Verdict on the National Trust’s controversial partnership with reality TV show Big Brother - by a Tory MP

Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski criticises 'cost-neutral' move as charity attempts to attract younger people to heritage sites

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The Independent Online

The National Trust’s controversial partnership with reality TV show Big Brother is a “hare brained scheme” and a waste of charity money on a “puerile and irrelevant project,” according to Daniel Kawczynski, Conservative MP for Shrewsbury.

The strongly worded attack - directed against the National Trust’s  director general Dame Helen Ghosh - comes as hundreds prepare to go on sell-out tours of the Big Brother house at Elstree Studios, Hertfordshire, this weekend.

Referring to Dame Ghosh’s former role as permanent secretary at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs during the “fiasco” over the privatisation of forests, Mr Kawczynski commented: “She and her team put that hare brained scheme together and now she’s come up with this hare brained scheme.” He added: “I think she’s going to have some difficulty justifying to her members that they ought to carry on funding on such a worthwhile body if the money is spent in such a flippant way.”

The charity - which describes itself as “protecting historic places” - has produced a guide to the Big Brother house in which the Diary Room chair is described as being “of iconic importance on a scale that can only be compared with Edward the Confessor’s Coronation Throne that sits behind glass in Westminster Abbey.” The living room is “a direct descendant of the multi-purpose Medieval Great Hall,” while the vegetable patch is compared to the Victorian gardens of Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire: “The parallels are indisputable.”

Yet in contrast to Elstree studios, Shrewsbury has the largest number of old and historic buildings of any town in England, claims Mr Kawczynski. “It is particularly irritating and demoralising when we are trying to get funding for these important buildings, this money is squandered on such a puerile and irrelevant project of no historical interest or value to future generations.”

And the MP has written to Dame Ghosh, inviting her to visit his constituency and see “sites where National Trust’s support could make a huge impact and difference.”

Although better known for protecting ancient monuments such as Hadrian’s Wall and Stonehenge, and stately homes and gardens across country, the National Trust’s involvement with the reality TV show is part of a deliberate attempt to attract younger people to heritage sites.

Joseph Watson, programme manager of the National Trust London project, said: “The opening of the Big Brother house for two days is intended to offer people an unusual, exciting, and even funny experience. It’s also an opportunity to debate the meaning of heritage to society. Heritage of the future or not, it’s clear that the Big Brother house is a special place to many, and says something important about the epoch we’re living through.”

He added: “We welcome Daniel Kawczynski’s contribution to that debate, but would also wish to reassure him that there is no question of the Trust acquiring the house.” The opening will be “cost-neutral,” said Mr Watson.

And the heritage charity is considering opening up a number of other “interesting” sites in the London area. These include a former ballroom, an old vinyl factory, and a Victorian sewage works.