National Trust signs up children to lecture staff on colonialism

National Trust staff and volunteers have been "reverse-mentored" by children so they can explain the colonial and slavery links of some of its country houses, The Telegraph can disclose.

The Trust arranged for staff and volunteers to be told about the impact of the British empire by so-called "child advisory boards" at a number of "selected properties", the charity said. None of the Trust’s team was forced to take part.

The staff were lectured about imperial history by school children who have been taking part in the Trust’s Colonial Countryside project, in conjunction with academics from Leicester University.

The hope is that the process will ensure that "British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses".

Reverse mentoring allows big organisations to "pair people who might otherwise not come together. These relationships are often profoundly transforming for both parties and promote a culture of inclusion in an organisation, where everyone matters" according to the Government.

The four year Colonial Countryside project has been examining "a range of colonial links, including slave-produced sugar wealth, East India Company connections, black servants, Indian loot, Francis Drake and African circumnavigators, colonial business interests, holders of colonial office, Chinese wallpaper, Victorian plant hunters and imperial interior design", according to a description on Leicester University’s website.

It has seen 100 primary children visiting 10 National Trust houses to craft fiction and short essays which are then presented to audiences.

According to the university: "Children will participate in conferences and give public talks. Child advisory boards will reverse-mentor National Trust staff to ensure that British imperial history is fully represented in the organisation’s country houses."

Sir John Hayes MP, the chairman of the Commonsense Group of Conservative MPs, said: "It is a source of sadness that the National Trust are out of touch with the reality of militancy that they are explicitly endorsing, out of tune with their increasingly disillusioned members and running out of time to put these wrongs right."

Conservative MP Andrew Murrison added: “Given recent concerns over the use of Trust assets to pursue an agenda by its leadership, I’m not entirely comfortable that the sensitive issue of childrens’ education is safe in its hands and would urge close oversight.

“In my view the Trust should concentrate on looking after its sites for the benefit of the visiting public who by and large don’t want to be indoctrinated with whatever world view the Trust’s leadership takes.”

A Trust spokesman said: "Colonial Countryside is a project started in 2018 at 11 National Trust houses, bringing children together with writers and historians to explore some of the collections in our care and enable them to use their imaginations and creative skills to discover the stories behind them.

"The participation of the children, which has now concluded, has tested new ways of working with relevant staff at selected properties, enabling us to hear and reflect the children’s responses. It was not a compulsory exercise for staff and volunteers across the Trust.

“Allowing children to explore history and nature, to think about their place in the world and create new responses is an important part of our work and we are grateful to all those who partner with us to carry it out."

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