What is the role of the National Trust movement in the 21st century? Who is responsible? Why should we care? These questions and more were thrashed about at the kick-off of the 16th International Conference of National Trusts.
In the beautiful historic university city of Cambridge, people from all corners of the planet converged to share their ideas and ask the challenging questions.
Jonathon Porritt said that “we cannot just be the custodians, we have to also be the interpreters”. We have to make sense of the past, find the essence of its being and importance of its preservation, and make an engaging story to capture the current and future populations. He spoke passionately of our role in the climate change sphere. “We just don’t know how climate change will affect us all. We don’t know because we’ve never cooked a planet before!” Although said in jest, he left his presentation with the somber reminder that “hesitation now will cost us dearly in the future”.
The panel discussing ‘Looking ahead: Contemporary challenges and opportunities’ led an intriguing session. David Brown from the National Trust for Historic Preservation in the USA stated that “It’s not the location (of heritage) that is important, it is the memories captured in them”. Shivranjani Rajye from Jodhpur reminded us that “Heritage is dynamic, not static,” and gave great examples of music festivals held in mountain forts in India. She said that at these international events “Performers who share no common language, understand each other perfectly through dance and culture”.
It was enforced that education plays a key role in the future of heritage conservation. Ambivalence and indifference are challenges we need to face head on. Emily Drani from Uganda reminded us that “It is not a given that people understand and value heritage, there needs to be education”.
The challenges that the future will bring are many and varied. However, with perseverance, loud voices, and strong governance, we will be able to “capture the light” as Simon Murray stated, and added that “It is not just our language that must change, it is our perspectives.”