National Trust ‘to awaken sleeping warrior’

SCOTLAND’s biggest heritage campaign is set to be launched within months to help the National Trust for Scotland carry out a radical transformation of its vast estate and save sites from closure.

Bosses say at least £100 million is needed to put the organisation on a sound financial footing over the next few years after it was brought to the brink of insolvency by a financial crisis two years ago.

NTS chief executive Kate Mavor said the body was now able to completely rule out disposing of any of its flagship sites – after a hit-list of 11 was drawn up in 2009, and four were eventually mothballed.

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The 11 sites were the Hill of Tarvit Mansion House, Kellie Castle, Inveresk Garden, Leith Hall, Hutchesons’ Hall, Haddo House, Barry Mill, Hugh Miller’s Cottage, Arduaine, the David Livingstone Centre, and Ben Lawers Mountain Visitor Centre.

Ms Mavor said: “There is a change of tack now, we are not looking to dispose of any of our flagship sites, which was on the cards a couple of years ago.”

Tens of millions of pounds more will be needed to pay for a string of “signature projects” at some of its most popular sites, as part of a strategy to overhaul the charity in its 80th year.

It is hoped these will emulate the success of the multi-million-pound new attractions at the birthplace of Robert Burns, in Ayrshire and Culloden battlefield, in the Highlands.

NTS aims to attract thousands of new members over the next five years while links are to be developed around the world to help the charity tap further into the Scottish diaspora.

Ms Mavor said that the fundraising drive was aimed at “awakening the sleeping warrior” of NTS, as well as securing the future of sites which are in desperate need of investment, although she declined to name those which were expected to benefit initially.

Bosses claim a new five-year strategy will see the trust “unlock the potential” of many of its 129 flagship sites, which also include Brodick Castle, on the Isle of Arran, Culzean Castle in Ayrshire, Falkland Palace in Fife, Crathes Castle in Aberdeenshire and the Glenfinnan Monument in the Highlands.

It is hoped NTS will be able to join forces with other bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage and Historic Scotland to take forward signature projects.

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Historic Scotland is already working with the charity on the £8.5m visitor centre at Bannockburn which is due for completion within the next three years.

Ms Mavor insisted NTS was determined to live “within its means” in future, revealing that a key plank of the five-year strategy would be to permanently raise the charity’s financial reserves to £21m.

The heritage organisation has had an official target figure of £17m in recent years to meet all of its running costs and help pay for unexpected repairs at its sites.

It was plunged into crisis two years ago when auditors warned that the reserves had slumped lower than £4m.

NTS commissioned an independent review, led by former Holyrood presiding officer George Reid, which was published last year.

It found that the charity was crippled by “byzantine” management structures which had “grid-locked” decision-making, while warning that the financial planning was “unsustainable” and that the organisation had no idea how much needed to be spent on major sites.

The new five-year strategy, which was published today, has come out of a further review overseen by Ms Mavor and trust chairman Sir Kenneth Calman, in which he admits: “It is clear as a charity that we have to change and adapt if we are to survive.”