National Trust for Scotland sheds up to 1,000 members a week during lockdown with losses of £28m expected
The conservation charity – which owns and manages 130 properties and 180,000 acres - is predicting that it could lose around 49 per cent of its projected income this year, or around £28M.
With its properties shut down to the public, the organization is hemorrhaging money given the loss of entrance fees and membership subscriptions as well as holiday rentals and events business, such as weddings.
Simon Skinner, the National Trust for Scotland’s Chief Executive said: “It’s frustrating for a charity with a core mission to ensure public access to national heritage that we’ve had to, quite rightly, close our properties to protect our workforce and the public. As a result, we are seeing a significant fall in income in our peak trading season.
“We have lost members since the beginning of lockdown – quite understandably, many are facing financial uncertainty and difficulty of their own. Others don’t want to pay towards properties they can’t visit at the moment.
“Thankfully, most members recognise that their fees are a donation to a charity and that we still have to care for and protect our places and the wider national importance they represent.
“In the early stages of lockdown the membership loss rate was around four times that of the same time last year. At peak points 1,000 members a week have left us and overall around 2% have gone so far since 1 March. This doesn’t sound much, but our membership recruitment is now next to nothing.”
Mr Skinner said it was normally the case that new memberships far exceeded losses and enabled the trust to draw fresh income.
Meanwhile, Stuart Maxwell, general manager for Edinburgh and East at NTS, said in a magazine article for the charity that he believes some of the sites he looks after may struggle to reopen after lockdown or be run by a greater number of volunteers post-pandemic.
“Some don’t get a huge number of visitors, so even just a slight fall has an impact of money coming in,” Mr Maxwell said.
NTS, which is run as an independent charity and receives virtually no state contributions, is now relying on financial reserves to see it through the public health emergency. Latest figures show it raised around £8.3M from its investments last year.
Meanwhile, 70 per cent of full time permanent staff have been furloughed with the workforces drastically reduced in some areas.
In the Edinburgh and East team, staff numbers have dropped from 174 to just 10 people who are responsible for maintaining properties from Killiecrankie in Highland Perthshire to St Abb’s Head in Berwickshire.
Managers, like Mr Maxwell, have been digging in to keep the deserted properties ticking over and have been doing the gardening, testing alarm systems and making sure atmospheric conditions are maintained to protect collections.
At Culloden Battlefield, management have been feeding and watering the Highland and Shetland cows with the manager at Kintail charged with exercising the retired stalking ponies that live there.
With the relatively dry spring this year, keeping the trust’s huge showcase of gardens in good condition so they are in the best form for re-opening is a key concern.
Some gardeners, such as those at Branklyn Gardens in Perth, live on site and have been able to keep the garden maintained.
At Brodie Castle in Moray, staff are working to care for the 400 types of daffodil now on show with social media being used to share the seasonal spectacle.
Meanwhile, the rhododendron collections at Arduaine, Brodick and Crarae, which date back more than 100 years, remain under careful watch.
Ian McLellan, general manager for the south and west of the country, added: “If you have a woodland garden, it doesn’t matter if you leave it for a while- it can get away with being a bit wilder.
“But if you have manicured lawns and greehouses, you have to keep on top of them. They’d be spoiled for years if you gardeners didn’t keep on top of them.”
The impact of coronavirus on the future of heritage and cultural sites was given a grim forecast last week by the Association of Scottish Visitor Attractions.
It represents more than 450 different sites – including those managed by NTS and Historic Environment Scotland.
A survey of its members found that 80 per cent of Scotland’s visitor attractions would be unable to survive beyond the next 12 months.
Research from Museum Galleries Scotland (MGS) found that more than half of the museums who took part in a study would run out of funds within the next six months.
The Scottish Government freed up £700,00 for MGS to distribute through an Urgent Response Fund for independent museums and galleries.
A MGS fund has also been set up to help museums purchase equipment for home working and to provide digital access to museum collections and activity.
Amid the challenges, innovation has grown with a number of museums still getting their collections and stories to the locked down public.
They include Elgin Museum, which has shared its star objects across its social media channels and shot a video for young archaeologists on how to set up an outdoor dig.
At the Scottish Fisheries Museum , its latest exhibition, Sea Change, has been transformed for online viewing with games, art competitions and a live pub quiz also organised for virtual visitors.
Meanwhile, the Highland Objects campaign has been launched on social media to bring together the best exhibits and their stories from small museums across the north.
Lucy Casot, CEO of Museums Galleries Scotland said it was now working on the ‘recovery phase’ of its pandemic plan and how to support organisations as lockdown starts to ease. It is working with other groups to learn from other countries, such as Germany, on how to manage.
A message from the Editor:
Thank you for reading this story on our website. While I have your attention, I also have an important request to make of you.With the coronavirus lockdown having a major impact on many of our advertisers - and consequently the revenue we receive - we are more reliant than ever on you taking out a digital subscription.Subscribe to scotsman.com and enjoy unlimited access to Scottish news and information online and on our app. With a digital subscription, you can read more than 5 articles, see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Visit https://www.scotsman.com/subscriptions now to sign up.
Our journalism costs money and we rely on advertising, print and digital revenues to help to support them. By supporting us, we are able to support you in providing trusted, fact-checked content for this website.