It is with excitement and trepidation; and not a little resignation that each and every Christmas morn after church, we step into the parlour for the family ritual of gift giving. Having opened various packages and folded the paper for re-use next year, I always note the slightly coquettish look in Mrs Howards eye, you might call it a twinkle (although her optometrist refers to it as a stigmatism) as she reaches for a small envelope barely hidden (from her good eye at least) in the branches of the tree. Her words, the same thing every year "and here for you Ebenezor a special little gift'.
I take the little envelope, open the barely dry flap and reach in... and yet again its a voucher for family membership of the National Trust. How I long for a change; some spark of imagination that would permit her to gift me adoption of a Meerkat from the WWF or a red letter fun day in a hot air balloon over the Cotswolds. But no, it is a gift promising trips round quaint places, preserved in aspic for the middles classes and tourists. With my family.
The attempt at humour and rhetoric aside, the work the NT does is one of the very special things that has kept parts of the UK as people love them and the dedication of its staff and volunteers to quality and conservation and the 'local' agenda isn't lost on me. It remains fully within the Trusts control to keep those places it owns or acts in Trust for, just as the are, and to continue to take on new ones. But is it responsible of the Trust to step up to the planning plate quite so strongly? Does the Trusts current rhetoric sit so comfortably with its own commercial activities and aspirations?
Page 43 of this months National Trust Magazine sees perhaps the most incongruous quote of entire NPPF debate. Deputy Chairman, Sir Laurie Magnus states 'We have to be careful not to enter the realm of political engagement - that is not the Trust's Core Purpose'. perhaps Sir Laurie will be quietly covered in over winter dust sheets after that one.
Am I alone, as a signed up NT member, at feeling a disconnect and discomfort in how the NT is engaging in the #NPPF consultation?. And doing it in my name... It cannot be lost on readers that the National Trust, perfectly entitled to a view on the #NPPF, is using, to very great effect, the traditional media, online advertising and social media to engage and effect political change in this way.
It is not lost on Ebenezor that the NT is itself a very shrewd commercial operator having heavily promoted development of some of its land holding for large scale development and is astute at developing parts of its property portfolio to generate revenues and no doubt raise asset value (sometimes against the strongest wishes of the community). Its capacity to rinse visitors of the contents of pockets in cafes, shops, garden centres, car parks and the like is legendary.
All part of the customer offer, meeting modern consumer demand no doubt.
Having today further engaged in the political arena by publishing its 10-point vision for the #NPPF, the old adage 'be careful for what you wish' might just come back to haunt it.