Creating experiences of our places
that move, teach and inspire

Crowds gather to sing carols in the evening at Fountains Abbey

We’re here for the nation as a whole

We want more people to be moved and inspired by our outdoor places

Top: Powis Castle trench view
Middle: Visitors in the entrance hall at Attingham Park, Shropshire
Bottom: A family visiting Ham House and Garden, Surrey
Top: Powis Castle trench view

Middle: Visitors in the entrance hall at Attingham Park, Shropshire

Bottom: A family visiting Ham House and Garden, Surrey

The Experiences Programme is about creating richer experiences that move, teach and inspire our visitors. Wherever we can, we want to give people more chances to learn, to be inspired by the beauty and the stories of our places and to become involved – as well as making sure they have the freedom to relax, reflect and explore in their own way.

We know that authenticity, superb presentation, attention to detail and interaction with our people are all things that people value most about visiting National Trust places. So we have to keep hold of all of these. But we also know that there’s much more we could be doing to keep up with the changing expectations of people who visit – and the people who aren’t visiting.

People come back again and again to our gardens and to the outdoors. But all too often, they’ll visit a mansion only once. How can we keep refreshing our offer, so that we encourage people to keep coming back to explore the full richness of these places? That could include more exhibitions, changing displays or new ways of telling our stories. We also know that, indoors and out, people are looking for more active visits – they want to be more involved and learn new things. We could be doing more to connect more people to our conservation work. For example, we could give them the chance to try new things and develop new skills, to engage their children or simply help them to delve for themselves into deeper layers of information. Finally, we know that many people derive more from their visits when they can make connections with their own lives, and to issues that matter to people today.

All of this applies equally to the outdoors – people want the freedom to explore and be active under their own steam, but they also want to learn about the natural environment and find out how they can be part of our work. How do we help people to feel closer to nature and become more active outdoors, without disrupting the uncluttered beauty and the tranquillity that they value so much at our outdoor places?

Over the last year, we have been responding to these challenges with more imaginative programming. Through exhibitions and new installations, for example, we are helping visitors to explore our stories in more depth. At Tyntesfield, the Passions and Possessions exhibition focused on more than a hundred objects to throw new light on its Victorian owner, Antony Gibbs. 

At Powis Castle, a powerful commemoration of the Somme, where the family’s eldest son Percy Clive was fatally wounded, included the creation of a First World War trench. In the Lake District, we created a major programme of events for the 150th anniversary of Beatrix Potter, including a Children’s Book Festival at Wray Castle.

Other ideas – often in partnership with contemporary artists – have helped our visitors to see places and collections in imaginative new ways. At Croome Court in Worcestershire, artist and ceramics expert Bouke de Vries created a remarkable Golden Box to house the returning porcelain collection. Berrington Hall in Herefordshire won a Hudson’s Heritage Award for Genius Loci, working with environmental arts group Red Earth to create new perspectives on its ‘Capability’ Brown landscape. Berrington Hall was one of a series of places offering new programmes and interpretations to mark the 300th anniversary of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s birth.

We began to explore new approaches to contemporary issues through National Public Programming, with a series of events, special events and podcasts on the theme of Europe and Us, including the ground-breaking Mount Stewart Conversations in Northern Ireland during a weekend of debates and cultural events. Our properties have also been exploring more challenging stories, working closely with visitors, volunteers, local communities and other partners. At Penrhyn Castle in North Wales, artist Lisa Heledd Jones has taken as her inspiration local stories of the slate industry’s controversial past.

At other places, we have been using new technology to deepen the experience and to help connect visitors to our stories in new ways. At Red House in Bexleyheath – the Arts and Crafts house designed by Philip Webb for William and Janey Morris – A Poem of a House is an innovative new projection which tells the story of Red House’s inception and describes the struggles of the Morrises as they attempted to realise their idyllic rural dream. At Petworth in West Sussex the Park Explorer uses a series of Wi-Fi hotspots in the park and Pleasure Grounds to transfer detailed information to smartphones and tablets.

These new experiences are built on a foundation of solid research and we have been working with academic partners to deepen our knowledge base. 

In 2016 we launched our first Knowledge Transfer Partnership with Oxford University. Over two years, the Trusted Source programme will see Oxford academics working with the National Trust to find ways of using research to improve visitors’ enjoyment of and engagement with historic places.

The wealth of data amassed in the project will be consolidated into pithy, easily understood articles about history, culture and the natural environment. The information will then be shared throughout the National Trust to be used in staff and volunteer induction training, by room guides in houses, for interpretation at our places and in guide books. It will also be shared on the internet for everyone to access.

In 2016 we celebrated our largest contemporary arts programme to date, with 24 events and exhibitions across England and Wales inspired by our places. From Mat Collishaw’s optical illusions at Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in North Yorkshire, to Christiane Löhr’s delicate dandelion sculptures at Gunby Estate, Hall and Gardens in Lincolnshire, our Trust New Art programme has enabled visitors to see our places from a different perspective. We’ve gone beyond visual arts, bringing writers back into places such as Agatha Christie’s Devon holiday home, Greenway, and transforming the Sounding Chamber at Cliveden in Buckinghamshire with a sound installation by Scanner. We’re grateful to Arts Council England and the Arts Council of Wales, whose support makes the programme possible.

We also want more people to be moved and inspired by our outdoor places. An important part of this is creating more opportunities for people to become active and explore our sites in new ways. Our long-running partnership with Sport England helped us to engage more than 400,000 people in outdoor activity last year, through running programmes like Nightrun, Parkruns and Trust10 and through the Summer of Sport initiative that involved thousands of people in everything from tennis and archery to paddleboarding. Also with support from Sport England, we began construction on ten new beginner multi-use cycle trails due to open in 2017.