National Trust wants to help visitors realise climate change solutions
As a conservation charity, the National Trust cares for a wide range of open spaces and built heritage – places people love, and love to visit . As a tourism-focused organisation, visits to our sites are vital for generating the income we need for our work. But spanning everything we do are the challenges of climate change, as our many forms of built and cultural heritage – mines, lighthouses, historic houses, archaeological structures, cottages and theatres – are increasingly vulnerable to the effects of the climate.
Last autumn, the Climate Heritage Network (CHN), a group of 250 cultural and heritage organisations worldwide, launched an action plan to work with local communities to address ways in which everyone can help to protect historic buildings and make a shift in the way they live, work and spend their leisure time.
Many charities are leading the way for nature and the environment, from planting trees to restoring peatlands. But the CHN is filling a gap and drawing on cultural interventions to inspire people to think and act on what they can do when they visit – and take pleasure from – places of historic significance.
Recognition of the connection between climate change and cultural and built heritage is in its infancy. In line with the CHN action plan, and in common with many other partners in the network, the National Trust is helping people to imagine and realise climate change solutions via creative projects and initiatives. In 2022, at Quarry Bank in Cheshire, for example, we hosted the Unintended Consequences cultural exhibition. This artistic intervention on the top floor of a historic 18th-century cotton mill invited visitors to consider the climate impacts made by the industrial revolution, including its effects today on cultural heritage and nature.
Every year, the National Trust takes part in Great Big Green Week. Last year, we worked with the Fleece Inn, one of our tenanted pubs in the Cotswolds, to transform it into the Green Man, a space for the community to come together and have climate conversations. Hundreds of pubgoers enjoyed sustainably produced beers and chatted with National Trust experts on their hopes and concerns for the local environment. A range of climate-themed events, including a folk night, comedy night and community festival celebrated local climate heroes.
Helping people to visualise what the impacts of climate change could be is also at the heart of the CHN. It is not just about tree planting and adaptive reuse of a building, but inspiring action through art and storytelling. For example, the trust recently worked with the Climate Coalition on the Letters to Tomorrow campaign, which invited members of the public to write letters to their loved ones expressing their hopes and fears for the future of our planet. Throughout the campaign, these powerful personal messages will be sent to the prime minister – one per day for the next 10 years – to support the case for greater political action on climate change.
There are many significant interventions worldwide that capture the imagination and use creative ways to help people realise what could be lost culturally if changes aren’t made. The striking depiction on the CHN website of hands pulling the buildings of Venice into the canal system is a powerful image that speaks louder than words. Through the knowledge and toolkits that the CHN can provide – as well as the unique artistic projects that individual organisations are developing with and for their local communities – it’s easier to imagine a more resilient future and be inspired to achieve change.
Imogen Wood is a heritage and climate consultant at the National Trust