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17 Aug 2021

Reaching Out – engaging with our audiences over the years

Written by Ian Riches, National Trust for Scotland Archivist
A leaflet from the 1970s featuring the copy: Let it be. on the left. On the right is a photo of a kilted man standing on a rock by a Highland loch.
Let It Be leaflet from the National Trust for Scotland, 1973
With the help of our wonderful archive collections, our archivist takes a look at the various means of communication the Trust has used over the years to promote our activities and objectives, as well as engage with our supporters.

Let It Be is the well-known title of a Beatles single, album and film from 1970. [1] Perhaps slightly less famously, it was also the headline of an imaginative appeal leaflet published by the National Trust for Scotland in 1973.

This entreaty to Trust supporters focused on the resolution to oppose plans for offshore oil and gas platforms at Drumbuie, on Balmacara Estate. The discovery of oil and gas off Drumbuie in the early 1970s sparked the Trust’s concern about the risks to the amenity and the well-being of the local crofting community. At the AGM in 1973, the Trust asked its membership and the public for support with the objection to the proposals. The resultant Let it be appeal elicited a great response, raising a substantial proportion of the funds required. A public enquiry in 1973–74 eventually found in favour of the Trust and other objectors, which enabled the coast around Lochalsh and Drumbuie to be protected. [2]

This is just one example of how the National Trust for Scotland has sought to reach out to its members, donors and visitors since 1931. Of course, in posting this story on our website, this is another obvious example of how we currently connect with our audiences. Through social media, online events and websites, the digital age has proved invaluable in informing people of the current happenings within our organisation. This has been especially important over the past 18 months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But what was it like in the days before mobile phones, tablets, apps and laptops? How did we get our messages ‘out there’? How did we seek to inform, educate and spark interest in both our organisation and our places? I wanted to explore some of these historical approaches by looking at some examples of the Trust’s publications.

Annual Reports

The National Trust for Scotland was founded 90 years ago, in May 1931. Shortly afterwards, the Trust put out a public notice explaining the background to the establishment of the organisation, how it was founded under the Companies Act along similar lines to (and with the ‘hearty cooperation and good wishes of’) the National Trust in England, and the acceptance of its first property, Crookston Castle. Although there had been newspaper reports and articles about the Trust’s foundation, this was the first time the National Trust for Scotland had directly communicated with the outside world.

The following period saw the new Limited Company busily organising its structure through the establishment of its governing Council, Executive Committee and the appointment of its senior post-holders. The Trust’s first AGM was held on 23 June 1932; at about the same time, the first Annual Report was issued and sent to members.

Along with the Minutes of the meetings of the Trust’s committees, the Annual Reports have always been a significant source of information about the Trust. In this first report, there are details of our first Life and Annual members, the significant income generated through grants and legacies, and the methods by which people could contribute to the Trust (via membership, legacy and donor forms).

For many years, the Annual Reports also described the properties that had come into the Trust’s care as well as those under consideration. A notable aspect of this first report relates to Bannockburn. By 1930, the battle site was under threat from housing developments, and a national committee had been set up to raise funds to buy it. The committee felt that Bannockburn would be a suitable proposition for the new National Trust for Scotland; and we agreed!

However, the funds required were significant. Although the Trust contributed towards the total, we could not agree to take over the running of the battleground until the committee had fully completed the acquisition. After a national appeal, including a public message by The 39 Steps author John Buchan on behalf of the committee, sufficient funds were secured, and this historic site came to the Trust in 1945.

Our Annual Reports have changed and evolved significantly over the years. The first splash of colour arrived in 1950. Not only did it contain the first colour photograph of a Trust property (a print of a painting of Preston Mill), but the cover featured the first reveal of the Trust’s coat of arms, recently devised by the Lord Lyon King of Arms.

The selection of front covers below highlights how the Annual Report (or Year Book as it was known for a time) adopted the prevailing printing trends from the 1960s to the 1980s, with full colour not achieved until the 1990 report. However, its content format remained largely unchanged. Each year it outlined details of new property acquisitions; events; gifts and legacies received; the financial situation; members of Council and various Committees; and members of staff.

This series of Annual Reports and Year Books, as well as being a vital source of information, remain an invaluable research tool for all who wish to know more about the history of the organisation.

Newsletters and news-sheets

In the post-World War II period, the National Trust for Scotland faced great financial difficulties. To stimulate wider interest in the organisation, raise membership levels and increase revenue, the Trust set up a Publicity Committee in 1946. [3] This committee used various means to ‘reach out’, including illustrated lectures, exhibitions of photographs and sending out membership brochures. They also began to explore the idea of property guidebooks, more of which below.

Another method was to set up a more regular form of communication from the Trust. In April 1948, the first edition of the Trust’s Newsletter was published. Initially, it was an annual or twice-yearly publication (occasionally combined with a supplementary news-sheet), but from the early 1960s until 1983, the Trust issued three editions per year. The Newsletters began as folded A5 sheets, but later developed into booklets and by the 1980s had become A4-size. They were crammed with information about the Trust and were an excellent way of keeping members updated with what was going on.

As we can see above, this first edition of the Newsletter included an ‘SOS’ appeal to raise funds and increase membership. It also sought those who could give illustrated talks on our properties, to help raise the Trust’s profile. The rallying cry for new members clearly had an effect, as the 1949 Annual Report stated that over 200 new members had joined since the publication of the Newsletter; a significant addition to the 1,600 members we had at the time.

This call for help with the launch of an emergency appeal will be familiar to our supporters today, who generously responded to our 2020 Save Our Scotland appeal, ensuring we could weather the storm of the pandemic. The wonderful response from our members and donors resulted in an appeal that raised a total of £3.4m. Let’s hope another SOS appeal will not be required again! In both, straightforward communication of our charity’s need was essential.

One of the more striking Newsletter editions appeared in March 1981, outlining the details of the Trust’s Golden Jubilee celebrations of that year. These included an appeal, a garden party at Falkland Palace and a staff reunion. A couple of years later, the Trust’s Newsletter was replaced by something more substantial, when the first edition of the new magazine was published.

The front cover of the Trust’s Golden Jubilee newsletter from March 1981. It features a blue and gold heraldic trumpet at the top, and a black and white photo of Lord Bute at the bottom, surrounded by columns of text.
The front cover of the Trust’s Golden Jubilee newsletter, March 1981

National Trust for Scotland magazine

The period between the mid-1970s and the mid-1980s saw a significant rise in our number of properties. From 1974–1986 the Trust accepted the following properties into our care: the Pineapple, Priorwood Garden, Castle Fraser, Drum Castle, Greenbank House and Garden, Haddo House, Iona, Brodie Castle, House of Dun, St Abb’s Head, Canna, Hill House, the Tenement House, Ben Lomond, Fyvie Castle, Robert Smail’s Printing Works and Staffa. No fewer than 17 major properties, along with some smaller places, in 12 years!

This was an expansion not seen before in the Trust. Alongside the preservation of these properties – lands, buildings and collections – and then making them accessible to the public, we also expanded our conservation activities and other functions. Clearly, our methods for communicating all this activity to our members needed to be expanded too.

In autumn 1983, Heritage Scotland, the Trust’s own magazine, replaced the Newsletter. The magazine was able to provide more information about the Trust than was previously possible. There was also a more practical reason for this new publication. Costs for sending out the regular Newsletters used a good proportion of the Trust’s membership income; to offset that, the new magazine welcomed advertisers. It was hoped that eventually the revenue from advertising would enable the magazine to become self-supporting.

The first edition of Heritage Scotland (in 2002, the title changed to Scotland in Trust; and currently it simply shows the season of the edition), celebrated the achievements of Sir Jamie Stormonth Darling, who had recently retired from the role of Director (Chief Executive) of the Trust having held the position since 1949.

The style of the magazine has changed quite a bit since those early days, and the number of pages per issue has increased significantly. But what hasn’t changed is the excellent quality of the magazine, winning numerous awards over the years. Articles are contributed by Trust staff and volunteers, alongside those from outside the organisation who are acknowledged experts in their specialist fields and those who have a deep love and interest in the Trust. The sheer breadth of the articles perfectly matches the wonderfully eclectic portfolio of National Trust for Scotland places.

Members can log into their My Trust account to read the most recent digital versions of our magazine

It’s difficult to pick just one article from almost 40 years, but if I had to, it would be the one shown below from the summer 1991 edition. And yes, it’s about archives! A retired Deputy Director of the Trust, John Davie, along with assistant Fiona Walker, had been tasked with organising the many thousands of acquisition, management, administration, factorial and legal files that the National Trust for Scotland had produced and accumulated over 60 years. This huge project was undertaken over the following months and years, and it was this initial organisation of the Trust’s corporate files that forms the bedrock of our institutional archive today.

A copy of a page from a magazine in 1991. The top half of the page shows a photo of a man and a woman working in an archive room. There are three columns of text below the title: The archives - what we found under the stairs!
Extract from the National Trust for Scotland magazine, summer 1991

Property guidebooks and leaflets

Another initiative proposed by the Trust’s Publicity Committee in the late 1940s was the production of property guides and leaflets. The first Trust guides were planned in 1947, although the earliest one we have in the archive is for Hill of Tarvit. This was produced in August 1949, the same year the property came into the Trust’s care, at about the time the mansion was due to be open to the public.

As with the Annual Reports, it’s fascinating to see the evolution of the Trust’s guidebooks, from early leaflets and largely text-based volumes to the more colourful and image-focused souvenir brochures produced today. Advances in graphics and technology have made it much easier to introduce colour, photographs and beautifully drawn maps and plans. Despite ever-changing designs, the guidebooks always contain the most up-to-date research at their time of publication.

As well as guidebooks, we’ve produced many leaflets and other miscellaneous printed items to promote our places. Shown below, these include the lovely limited edition entrance tickets/bookmarks from the early 1970s and property-specific appeal brochures.

General guides and leaflets

In addition to property publications, the Trust has produced an enormous range of material to promote our conservation work. These range from leaflets promoting countryside and ranger activities; guides for Thistle Camp and Countryside volunteers; leaflets outlining the built heritage of specific regions; brochures for National Trust for Scotland cruises and holiday accommodation; conservation management documents; appeals for funds and membership; and the list could go on and on.

I’ve picked a couple of examples below to show the changing face of appeal literature. The first is a booklet from the late 1930s, appealing for general funds for Trust endeavours; the second is a leaflet from the early 1970s, seeking contributions towards a Famous Scots Fund and featuring the birthplaces of famous Scots within the Trust’s portfolio. Of course, now we have campaign pages on our website to help reach an even wider audience.

Find out more about our current appeal to protect Culloden battlefield

This article is simply an overview of the numerous ways the National Trust for Scotland has sought to engage members, donors and visitors over the years, mainly in the pre-digital age. A wide range of publications have raised the profile of the Trust, our places and our work, as well as increased our membership and generated much-needed funds to continue our conservation efforts. There have been many other approaches – books, films, radio broadcasts and television programmes – but space constraints mean we cannot feature them all here! However, a common theme to all the Trust’s communication methods is a passion to engage and inspire as many people as possible with a love for Scotland’s remarkable heritage.


[1] Let it Be: the Beatles single was released on 6 March 1970; the album was released on 8 May, the same month as the film’s release. The title of this piece, ‘Reaching Out’, also has popular music connotations, being a line from Neil Diamond’s much-sung ‘Sweet Caroline’!

[2] See Douglas Bremner’s book, For the Benefit of the Nation (National Trust for Scotland, Edinburgh: 2001], pp. 39–40

[3] National Trust for Scotland Annual Report, 1946

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