Introduction   Overview   The shape of the debate   Themes Theme 1 - A National Heritage Collection Theme 2 - Heritage for Communities Theme 3 - Making Heritage Accessible Theme 4 Heritage and Tourism after 2014    
Introduction Disney Work? Case studies Heritage for All
A Place for Learning? The options for the Trust Video Package Your views 

In Theme 2 Heritage for Communities various different issues concerning the use and ownership of heritage properties came to the fore.

In this theme, the central debate is around the National Trust for Scotland’s role in overcoming physical, intellectual and motivational barriers to accessing our heritage.

A bit like the National Health Service’s ‘customer’ base, Trust membership and visitor profiles tend to be dominated by the very young and the not so young.  The Trust has worked hard to encourage people to see its properties as family friendly places and offer active learning through play and events.  Every year thousands of visitors bring their children or grandchildren to enjoy Trust properties. 48% of our members hold family memberships.

At the other end of the spectrum, 31% of our members are ‘seniors’; possibly retired, whose offspring are now grown up and away from the parental home, with time to spare and often with seriously committed interests in particular aspects of heritage, such as history, gardens or nature.

We know from AGMs and local assemblies that a recurrent worry for many Trust members is the fact that it is perceived that we see much less of older children, teenagers and people under the age of 30 – and, indeed, only 3% of our total membership is in the under-25 category. 

Some suggest we need to put more effort into our educational and schools programmes in order to better engage with these age-groups. Others feel that everything works out in the end as people who experienced Trust properties as children will naturally return to them once they become parents themselves.  

However, the wider picture is rather more complicated. Notions of how society is shaped and what new technically-savvy generations expect to experience are changing at a bewilderingly fast pace:

• The tension between those who adhere to the concept of learning and engagement through entertainment  - visitor centres, ‘living history’, theatrical events, 3D displays and the like – and those who think that important historical and natural sites should be experienced in the raw is a very real and sometimes bitter one

• The old definitions of ‘Upper’, ‘Middle’ and ‘Working’ class groups are now essentially inadequate for a service-based economy emerging from long years of austerity – but, nevertheless, what is clear is that the Trust’s membership does not reflect as wide a representation of modern society as it perhaps could

• The Trust puts considerable effort and expertise into providing learning packages and interpretative materials for schools and hosts tens of thousands of school visits each year – but with Local Authority budgets under pressure, the Trust as a charity is finding it increasingly difficult to underwrite the costs to maintain a level that schools are prepared to pay.

The harsh truth is that, although Trust membership is increasing, the trend in the number of paying visitors is a relentlessly downward one.  As part of its core purpose to ensure that heritage is promoted and accessible, and to survive as a charity, the Trust must address this.

In this part of the A Place for Heritage? debate we also take a look at what new technologies might mean for engaging with new generations and ask questions as to whether our approach to learning and engagement needs to change if there is to be greater and wider interest in heritage.