CREATIVE STRATEGY: National Trust rediscovers the joys of childhood

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National Trust: evoking the joys of the outdoor life for children
National Trust: evoking the joys of the outdoor life for children

I've always had a love/hate relationship with the National Trust. This is based on extensive experience. Since I could walk, perhaps even before then, I was taken round every stately home, castle and ruin in north-west England and beyond.

No doubt this contributed to my love of history. But as a young adult I also came to despise the National Trust's apparent lack of imagination and its pandering to a certain demographic. If, as someone said, the Church of England is the Tory party at prayer, then the National Trust was ever the playground of the middle-aged, middle-class, middle-Englander.

The uniform goods in the gift shops said it all – little bags of lavender, chintzy aprons and nostalgia-laden books on rural life. And I vividly recall my late father railing at those pathetic plastic micro-pots of milk in the cafe of Erdigg, an early 18th-century country house near Wrexham.

"Look", he bellowed. "There’s a cow right there!" And indeed, a live source of milk was grazing in the nearest field.

But in recent years, the National Trust seems to have rid itself of a few institutionalised cobwebs. Like the rest of the heritage industry, it now strives to broaden its appeal and state its relevance – indeed, its very right to exist at all.

This can lead to some bizarre initiatives, as when English Heritage decide to rewrite all its information boards in a language and type size to accommodate the lowest of lowest common denominators. That's not inclusive, it's patronising.

For contrast, take a look at this leaflet for the National Trust. At its heart is a simple idea that pokes fun at all those "bucket list" books. The headline reads: "50 things to do before you’re 11 3/4".

It's like a celebration of childhood joys, sponsored by the National Trust. My personal fave on the list is "Bury someone in the sand". Copy is consistently charming, art direction appropriately hand-made.

In an era of PC-ness and health and safety gone madder than a mad thing, how refreshing to see the National Trust actively encouraging children to climb trees, play conkers, light fires and go abseiling. 

Simon S Kershaw is a creative consultant and a former creative director at Craik Jones

























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