New National Trust boss sparks new row

The new boss of the National Trust walked straight into a row yesterday when she declared she wants to appeal to people from Birmingham.

Hilary McGrady said her mission as guardian of the nation’s treasures – with £1billion in assets and an area of land the size of Dorset – was to be more radical, relevant and attractive to those living in cities.

‘The days of walking in to one of our beautiful houses and just saying a family lived here, that’s not going to do it,’ she told the BBC Breakfast TV programme.

‘We need to think about what are the stories that are relevant – why is it that someone from the middle of Birmingham would find that interesting? What is it that’s in Birmingham that they would get more value from?’

In 2015 Dame Helen declared the Trust¿s grand houses had ¿too much stuff¿ in them and the organisation was too ¿middle-class¿

Hilary McGrady has taken over from Dame Helen Ghosh

She added: ‘The people that need beauty the most are the ones that have least access to it.’

Yesterday those living in Britain’s second city were far from impressed at the new director-general’s comments.

‘If she’s trying to say that people in Birmingham don’t appreciate visiting places like the National Trust then that’s ridiculous,’ said Graham Jenkins, 36, an IT technician from Edgbaston.

‘She should get off her high horse and not be so snooty.’

National Trust member Jean Phillips, 62, a receptionist from Erdington, said: ‘I know lots of people in Birmingham who love the National Trust places and visit sites regularly. There’s lots of places in Birmingham and nearby that you can go to, so it’s not like people around here aren’t interested or don’t want to go.’

Catherine Rawson, 20, a student, added: ‘She makes it sound like Birmingham hasn’t really got anything to offer.’ Mrs McGrady, 51, took over from Dame Helen Ghosh, who had been accused of promoting a politically correct agenda in her five years at the helm.

Yesterday, Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen said Mrs McGrady’s comments sounded ‘patronising’ and seemed ‘to suggest the people of Birmingham are culturally deficient in some way’. He added: ‘We’ve had quite a radical agenda set by the previous director-general. Many of its loyal supporters and members will be wondering where the trust is heading under the new leadership.’

The trust, which is England’s biggest charity and had 24.5million visitors last year, said Mrs McGrady was referring to her interest in creating cultural and green spaces in urban areas in her TV interview. For example, the trust is working with Birmingham City Council to secure the future of Moseley Road Baths, an Edwardian public swimming pool. It is also trying to find funding for Newcastle’s public parks.

Hasn’t new boss learned from past? 

If a National Trust boss can’t learn lessons from the past, who can? Hilary McGrady’s comments follow a string of controversies involving her predecessor Dame Helen Ghosh.

In 2015 Dame Helen declared the Trust’s grand houses had ‘too much stuff’ in them and the organisation was too ‘middle-class’. The next year, the charity was accused of buying Lake District farmland at an inflated price, thwarting locals who wanted to keep it as a working farm. Last year came the accusation that it was ‘airbrushing faith’ after posters advertised an ‘egg hunt’ instead of using the term ‘Easter egg’.

And in the summer volunteers mutinied when they were forced to wear gay pride badges to mark 50 years since the decriminalisation of homosexuality in the UK.