‘Woke’ National Trust seeks Vote Leave help

The National Trust has hired a lobbying firm run by a former Vote Leave executive to “de-woke-ify” the charity in an apparent admission that it needs to cool the political row surrounding its controversial colonialism and slavery report.

Hanbury Strategy – whose company motto is "The world is changing. We can help you understand it, navigate it, shape it" – is understood to have hired in recent weeks after the publication of the 115-page report in September.

The Trust hired the PR firm after its members condemned the study which implicated Winston Churchill.

The charity commission also raised concerns about it and ministers said in a Commons debate this month that the report had been "unfortunate" and "caused offence" and urged the Trust to focus on its "core functions".

Hanbury Strategy, a strategic advisory company, was co-founded four years ago by Paul Stephenson, a former communications director in the Vote Leave campaign, and Ameet Gill, director of strategy in 10 Downing Street when David Cameron was Prime Minister.

Paul Stephenson co-founded the group

On its website the firm says that "whether you’re an investor who wants to measure political risk, a CEO facing a difficult communications challenge, or a political leader who wants to better understand public opinion, we bring unparalleled experience to your most complex and challenging problems".

The Trust declined to say how much it was paying Hanbury, although industry sources said it was likely to be tens of thousands of pounds.

The news of the appointment comes just as the Trust is making redundant nearly 1,300 staff including curators to fill a £200million revenue shortfall caused by the pandemic.

Tory MPs questioned why the Trust had decided to spend large sums on the advisers to deal with a problem that its own executive team had caused.

Conservative MP Andrew Murrison said: "The Trust leadership shouldn’t need to hire an expensive PR consultancy to dig it out of a mess of its own making.

"The expenditure will distress hard working staff sacked by the Trust and members and volunteers who have seen properties close.

"This latest adds to the impression of an organization that’s out of touch and, to be honest, all over the place.

"The Trust’s leadership needs to get back on track fast, reconnect with its members and rediscover its simple, honorable task of being Clerk of Works to our most precious structures, artifacts and landscapes."

Another Tory MP added: “It’s clear that the clueless National Trust leadership has totally lost touch with its own membership.

“That they’ve got to hire premier-league outside help just to de-woke-ify themselves shows just what a hole they’re in.

“To ordinary members this just goes to show how urgent change at the top of the National Trust now is.”

A National Trust spokesperson said: “The National Trust cares for many hundreds of places and collections, welcomes millions of visitors every year, and communicates with a huge range of stakeholders and audiences.

“To be as effective as possible we sometimes need extra support from external organisations and agencies.

“All spending decisions go through a rigorous procurement process to ensure best value for money and long term benefit to the organisation.”

A spokesman for Hanbury Strategy declined to comment on its work with the Trust.

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