written by Ritika Khanna
The National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland hosted the 16th international Conference of the National Trusts, ‘Common Threads; Different Patterns’ from 7-11 September 2015 in the magnificent city of Cambridge, UK. The conference brought together heritage and conservation organizations and professionals working in the field from many different countries. It explored the question ‘What is the role and purpose of the National Trust movement in the 21st Century?’ through plenary sessions, practical workshops, activities and discussion groups.
The National Trust Movement is a global movement that unites people with a concern for heritage and cares about special places such as monuments, historic buildings, landscapes, farmlands and open spaces. It also recognizes the importance of intangible heritage which includes our customs, languages, folklore and ways of living. Abiding by this movement, there are many different National Trusts across the world and each one has its own ‘model’, own set of rules and own focus. However, all these National Trusts have one thing in common – the concern for protecting our heritage, both tangible and intangible.
The history of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland goes back to 1895 when it was established with a focus on protecting open spaces and encouraging the urban poor to enjoy it. With time, the Trust delved into issues of protecting properties, reaching out to communities and volunteers, encouraging people to get actively involved in the protection of heritage and inspiring people to know the relevance of their heritage.
At the recently held conference, members of the National Trusts and heritage professionals from across the world came together to share best practices, discover common problems and show solidarity with the fellow members of the Movement. The plenary sessions were led by representatives of different National Trusts, heritage experts and eminent professionals working in the field of heritage and conservation. The sessions revolved around themes like Global Heritage Movement without Borders, Contemporary Challenges and Opportunities, Benefits of international Co-operation and Boosting the Effectiveness and Growth of the National Trusts.
During the three activity days of the conference, the delegates were taken to five National Trust’s properties around Cambridge – Wimpole Estate, Wicken Fen, Anglesey Abbey, Ickworth Estate and the Theatre Royal in Bury St. Edmunds. The activity days mainly consisted of discussion sessions which were conversation led and informal, with plenty of time for the delegates to know one another. The first activity day was based on ‘Cultural Identities’ where topics like using the spirit of the place, using the past to engage with contemporary issues, meeting the needs and expectations of today’s visitors and intangible heritage in a homogenising world were discussed. The second activity day revolved around ‘Growing the Movement’ and had discussion themes such as the expectations of the youth, techniques for fundraising, working with volunteers and legal and governance frameworks. The last activity day was based on ‘Land, Landscape and Nature’ and threw light on subjects like adapting land management to a changing world, relevance of agriculture and farming, landscape and urban scale conservation and working with water catchment, rivers and the coast. Each session of the activity days was facilitated by members of the National Trust and encouraged the delegates to share their perspectives with each other.
On the last day, the conference closed with a final plenary where reflections from the conference were discussed. The baton was then passed to Indonesia where the 17th International Conference of the National Trust will take place in 2017.
Apart from engaging the delegates in heritage related discussions and activities; the conference also provided ample time for everyone to enjoy the mesmerising buildings and expansive grounds of Cambridge. The five days of the conference were a perfect blend of inspiration, networking and entertainment. As a young professional, it was an honour to be a part of this esteemed conference which underlined the importance of conserving our heritage so that it is understood and enjoyed by present and future generations.