Hear from our new Director-General

Hilary McGrady
Published : 12 Mar 2018

On her first day as Director-General, Hilary McGrady reflects on what the National Trust means to her and her hopes for its future.

I’ve always believed in the power of arts and culture as a force for good and I’ve spent much of my career helping to develop this. For me, culture embraces all of the things that underpin our identity. Our natural environment, arts, heritage and human stories are the things that anchor people and have the power to inspire, delight and unite.

To lead an organisation that focuses on exactly these things feels like an extraordinary privilege and responsibility for me -  and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Over five million members

I’m lucky to take over the reins of an organisation in strong health. We now have over five million members and welcomed record numbers of visitors to our places last year. This has allowed us to invest more than ever before in the conservation of our places, but also in places beyond our ownership.

Most importantly, our strategy provides a clear roadmap of the things we want to do between now and 2025. I am looking forward to building on our achievements to date and being even more ambitious about our conservation standards and in particular the scale and scope of public benefit we deliver.

Debate is good

Benefit can of course mean different things to different people. What one person sees as benefit, others see as problematic. I believe this debate is good; it’s what keeps us contemporary and relevant to people’s lives and goes to the heart of the many paradoxes that exist in the Trust.

We are both indoors and outdoors, conservation and access, national and local, professional and volunteer-led. My job is to navigate these tensions and make them add up to something special and essential to people's lives.

Inevitably, with such a huge membership it’s going to be impossible to keep everyone happy all of the time. Our members and supporters are passionate about the Trust, they care deeply about what we do and rightly feel a sense of ownership for our charity.

That’s to be welcomed and embraced. I will try to get the balance right and I want to make sure we’re catering for everyone – from the academics or art lovers to the family who just want to enjoy a picnic in the parkland.  But it is also likely that we will get a few things wrong along the way.

Building confidence

We have some 12,000 employees and over 60,000 volunteers who feel equally passionate about what we do. I want our people to feel able to try new things and to make decisions without being weighed down by bureaucracy.

We can’t do this without occasionally making mistakes, but this is part of the process of building confidence and we will learn from them.

People are of course at the heart of everything the Trust is about. Every part of the UK has in some way been shaped by people, and places thrive because people care about them. None of the places in our care were ever intended to be static. They have always been, and will always be, shaped by people as living, breathing places. When our founders talked about preservation, they were trying to capture the essence of what made places important to them, not just protecting the physical building or landscape.

Quality of research and conservation

We should be confident in continuing to shape our places for the benefit of the nation, while retaining the things that make them special. That is why we need to get ever better and more thoughtful about the quality of research and conservation we deliver.

There is a lot to be done at a time of quite radical change. Brexit, a rapidly changing social and cultural demographic and possibly most importantly, the digital revolution, means that the work of the Trust is ever more vital: as a refuge, an antidote and an inspiration.

Indeed, at a time when virtual reality is increasingly becoming part of the fabric of our everyday lives, it’s never been more important to champion the real thing.

I can't wait to get started.