National Trust boss reveals she has received death threats

‘It comes with the territory,’ says Hilary McGrady

Liam James
Tuesday 04 January 2022 13:35 GMT
The National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire was one of many properties found to be ‘steeped in the history of empire’
The National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire was one of many properties found to be ‘steeped in the history of empire’ (Getty)

The head of the National Trust said she has received anonymous death threats over the organisation's perceived “wokeness”.

Hilary McGrady, director general of the trust, said the charity's research into the colonial history of many of its properties, including links to slavery, had left some members “really cross and angry”.

She told The Guardian that she did not report the intimidation to the police as “it comes with the territory” of running a large charity.

The trust was drawn into the so-called “culture wars” last year after publishing a report that found connections to slavery and colonialism at 93 of its properties and historic places.

Several Conservative MPs accused the trust of following a “woke agenda” and wrote to the culture secretary asking him to review its funding. An investigation by the Charity Commission found that the trust worked within its rights in commissioning the report.

A group called Restore Trust has been set up to oppose so-called “wokeness” at the trust. It said the trust had “given the impression that it has taken sides on divisive issues” and said it wanted to lead a return “to its core purpose of looking after our heritage and countryside”.

Restore Trust put forward six candidates for election to the 36-member National Trust council this year, three of whom won their seats.

The group said Min Grimshaw, one of its winning candidates, would “encourage a common sense-based approach to history”.

Ms McGrady said: “I would like to engage with them honestly and openly. What isn’t helpful is a war of words.”

“I’m really up for having those conversations … I have to accept I can’t lead an organisation of this scale and not take on these challenges. It comes with the territory and I’m pretty sanguine about that.“

She said although there were the “really cross and angry” members and visitors who agreed with the stance of Restore Trust, “there were also people really delighted and relieved that we’re finally looking at the history that they want to learn.”

The trust saw a “huge jump” in membership in the past few months, she said.

“We did lose a lot of people for all sorts of reasons – financial worries or just knowing that they wouldn’t be able to use their membership – but I think we’ll be back to 6 million this coming year,” she said.

Last year's report was only the start of the trust's engagement with its colonial history, she said. Next, it will look at each property implicated to see if further research is warranted.

In light of accusations that the trust seeks to “rewrite history”, she said: “We’re trying to provide layers of information; we’re taking nothing away. We’re adding to the complexity of the information available.”

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