New National Trust chief says history cannot be ‘eclipsed’ by woke views

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Anna Fox

By Anna Fox

Published: 07/07/2022

- 21:30

The charity is embroiled in the 'woke' debate following attempts to rewrite history

The new chairman of the National Trust has stressed history cannot be "eclipsed" by modern views, following an ongoing "woke" row which is embroiling the charity.

In his first interview since assuming his role in February, René Olivieri outlined how contemporary views will not be superior to current understanding of the past and alternative views should be considered as an element of the "tapestry" of understanding.

The National Trust has been embroiled into a %22woke%22 row
The National Trust has been embroiled into a "woke" row
Wiki Commons

The National Trust has faced mounting pressure in recent years over its alleged attempts to rewrite history, including its decision to add Winston Churchill's home to a list of buildings linked to slavery and colonialism".

Mr Olivieri acknowledged the public's criticism of the Trust, stating he was "grateful" that people cared about the Trust's work and welcomed further opinions.

When probed about the heated rows, Mr Olivieri told Country Life magazine: “It’s important – as far as conservation allows – to make these buildings and their contents more interesting to more people.

“Added to which, we are all entitled to ask different questions about the past. A new view, however, does not supersede its predecessors, nor can it eclipse other perspectives.

“Each is another thread in the tapestry of our understanding, adding colour, richness and depth to the whole.”

Dr Christopher Warleigh-Lack, National Trust property curator for east Down based at Mount Stewart
Dr Christopher Warleigh-Lack, National Trust property curator for east Down based at Mount Stewart
Liam McBurney

Comments from the new Chairman have been brandished as an attempt to reconcile with outraged members and volunteers who have been increasingly vocal in the opposition of the charities alleged "woke agenda".

Campaign group, Restore Trust, was formed in the wake of the heated debate, in order to remind the charity of its intentions of protecting the nation's heritage "for everyone, for ever”.

The group campaigned for the axing of the previous chairman Tim Parker, who quit in May last year after a seven-year term which saw the Trust embroiled in a series of incidents.

The charity stated that his decision to leave was not linked to the group’s demands.

Formerly overseeing the RSPCA's fall from its highly criticised "political" role, which involved private prosecutions, Mr Olivieri was deemed as a “safe pair of hands”.

He is the first American to lead the National Trust, holding several non-executive roles in the cultural and natural heritage sector in the past.

Refraining from involvement in politics or commenting on "culture wars" and the "woke" debate that have tarnished the Trust's leadership in recent months, Mr Oliveieri used his first speech to reiterate his belief in "cathedral thinking” – opting for the long-view of projects that must be realised for the sake of future generations.

He welcomed the need for the Trust to drastically improve access to its sites, but emphasised how he could not control the transport system as a whole.

At the next AGM of Restore Trust in the autumn, members have urged for a creation of a watchdog to ensure the charity is held accountable by its members, volunteers and tenants.

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