Belfast Telegraph

National Trust must reach out to the inner cities, says Northern Ireland woman at helm Hilary McGrady

Hilary McGrady
Hilary McGrady

By Tim Smith

The National Trust needs to do more work in the inner cities of the UK, not just preserve beauty spots and historic stately homes, its Northern Ireland-born chief officer has said.

Hilary McGrady, who was appointed to lead the National Trust in 2017, said the conservation body had to engage more with people in towns and cities.

"I want to reach more people, and more people live in urban areas," she commented.

"The days of walking into one of our beautiful houses and saying a family lived here, that's not going to do it.

"The people that need beauty the most are the ones that have least access to it.

"I think the idea of people coming to us on our terms, those days are probably gone."

Speaking to the BBC, she said "radical" steps were needed.

"It's got to be radical. But rather than change it I want to add to it," Ms McGrady explained.

The National Trust currently has more than five million members across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

It cares for around 500 historic houses and buildings, as well as 800-plus miles of coastline.

In Northern Ireland, its properties include Mount Stewart house and gardens outside Newtownards, Co Down, Springhill House outside Magherafelt, and the world-famous Giant's Causeway on the North Coast.

Originally trained in graphic design, Ms McGrady's career path started in the drinks industry in brand and marketing.

In 1998, she moved to become director of a national arts charity and was subsequently seconded in 2002 to become CEO of Imagine Belfast, the promotional body set up to power the city's bid to become European Capital of Culture. A two-year return to the private sector as cultural tourism consultant preceded her move to the National Trust as its director-general.

Ms McGrady called for a radical approach to the organisation's mission, engaging with new partners such as city councils and community groups in urban environments around the country.

She recognises the challenges the National Trust faces.

"The reality is, with five million members and 200 million people coming to our properties, somebody somewhere is likely to be annoyed with us," she acknowledged.

"I quite like that. I like the debate: if people are not passionate about the Trust then it's a sad day," she added.

The National Trust was founded in 1895, and today employs around 7,000 full-time staff, plus 4,000 part-time seasonal helpers. Last year over 65,000 volunteers gave more than 4.7 million hours of their time to support it.

Belfast Telegraph


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