We are a charity, we don’t receive any direct Government funding and our conservation costs are increasing. We need help from our members.
Conservationists with an eye for a bargain - or giving to charity from a tight household budget - are being advised to sign up to the National Trust in the next few days in order to avoid a hike in membership fees.
The National Trust will put up its membership prices by an average of 50p a month to help fund its biggest ever programme of conservation repairs, maintenance and improvements. The extra expense comes as families are struggling after years of austerity policies and also price rises as a result of Brexit.
The increase in monthly membership fees - which the charity is keen to point out is less than the price of a second class stamp - will help the National Trust address the increasing cost of looking after its historic homes, coastline and countryside - which rose by 15 per cent last year.
The membership price changes take place from Thursday, 1 March 2018. Individuals aged over 26 will pay only £4.20 a year more for membership while the cost of family membership sees an increase of £5.40, rising from £114.60 to £120.00 a year.
A quarter of a billion pounds has been spent by the Trust over the last two years on the conservation of its historic homes thanks to the support of its membership base - which has grown to more than five million.
Sharon Pickford, membership director, said: “The money we raise from memberships goes directly into caring for the 300 historic properties, 778 miles of coastline and 250,000 hectares of countryside across England, Wales and Northern Ireland which the Trust looks after on behalf of the nation.
“We are a charity, we don’t receive any direct Government funding and our conservation costs are increasing. We need help from our members to look after these amazing places. Last year, we spent the equivalent of more than £2 million a week on conservation work.
“This included helping to fund big projects such as finishing the 30 year restoration and conservation of Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the continuing restoration of Knole in Kent and repairing the roof at the Vyne in Hampshire, plus restoring the famous gardens at Stowe in Buckinghamshire and Standen in West Sussex."
Pickford added: “But it’s not just the big projects we need to fund. Money raised through membership also helps fund improvements to facilities – such as car parks, cafes and delivering a programme of events for visitors. Over the last few years we’ve also responded to members’ feedback to open our doors for longer and for more places to open for 363 days a year.
“We couldn’t do all of this without the vital support of our members and we thank them for their continued support.”
The charity was also keen to point out that it was introducing a series of discounts and exceptions, so the price rise would not impact those who could afford them least, including both older and younger existing and potential members.
The statement on its website stated that "the Trust will write to around a million members aged over 60 to tell them it will continue to offer a 25 percent discount as reward for their loyal support. That will mean seniors, who have been members for at least five out of the previous ten years, will benefit from amongst the best value prices the Trust offers to any group."
Grandparents and extended family relied upon for childcare will also be able to take advantage of a new-cut price £10 junior membership to take youngsters to 500 Trust places. As a result, young people currently on the young person membership - aged five to 17 - will benefit from a 70 per cent reduction in annual fees.
Any member or supporter with a disability or a mobility issue can meanwhile claim a free carers’ pass - renamed the Essential Companion pass - for up to two friends or relatives to join them on a visit to any Trust place. Joint senior loyal members will see fees increase by £4.80 to £85.20, which is nearly £19 cheaper than the full price.
The new £10-a-year junior pass has been launched because around 1.5 million parents now rely on ‘informal’ childcare, according to the Department for Education - usually grandparents. Sharon said: “We know family life has changed dramatically and children are increasingly looked after by grandparents – and other family members – while their parents are out at work.
“We need to move with the times and offer more flexible memberships which reflect the changing nature of childcare in Britain; and which will help inspire the next generation to care about the hundreds of historic houses, landscapes, miles of coastline and wildlife that we look after.”
The Young Person’s 50 per cent concession remains, albeit with a revised age range (18-25) due to the introduction of the new junior membership.
Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist, founder of Request Initiative and co-author of Impact of Market Forces on Addictive Substances and Behaviours: The web of influence of addictive industries (Oxford University Press). He tweets at @EcoMontague.
This story is based in part on a press release from the National Trust. For more information on National Trust membership visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/join.