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All of history

A growing honesty in relation to the subject of slavery has led to some attractions revising their policies and approach. Jon Young from BVA BDRC looks at visitor opinions on this shift


In September 2020, the UK’s National Trust published an interim report on historic slavery and colonialism links to the places it cares for. There were a number of complaints after the report came out, with claims the group had acted outside its charitable purposes by drawing attention to links between, for example, Winston Churchill’s former home at Chartwell and colonialism. 

The UK Charity Commission found no grounds for regulatory action against the National Trust, commenting that it was “satisfied that the trustees recognised and carefully considered the potential negative reaction that could result from the publication of the report”.

In a blog post, National Trust director-general Hilary McGrady said: “There is so much to be proud of in our history. The wonderful collection of places the Trust cares for, that have been cherished for generations before us, is a testament to that. However, history can also be challenging and contentious. It is surely a sign of confidence, integrity and pride that while we can celebrate and enjoy history, we can also explore and acknowledge all aspects of it. The National Trust is at its best when we capture this complexity – when we present facts and material evidence in ways that inspire curiosity, inquiry, learning and sharing. 

“We’re developing a programme of rounded interpretation at properties,” said McGrady, “Balance and integration will be at the heart of this programme. Our curatorial teams continue doing vital work with properties to make sure we have the highest standards of presentation and interpretation at these places. We are here for all of history – for everyone, for ever.”

An example of the National Trust’s slavery insights can be seen in its work on Penrhyn Castle at www.attractionsmanagement.com/Penrhyn

An industry-wide issue
Although the National Trust received much of the attention on this subject, a number of other operators have also sought to re-evaluate how they talk about this subject area.

A key concern is the impact any reinterpretation will have on attraction visitor numbers.

Some worry that by drawing attention to the negative side of history, the ‘idealistic Downton Abbey traditionalist’ may decide not to visit, but others argue that following the events of 2020, the public’s understanding of how historic sites relate to slavery has shifted. There is an expectation that interpretation conveys the full history of a venue (‘warts and all’) and by doing nothing, they’ll be providing a sanitised version of what happened, which will lead to a less fulfilling visitor experience. It could also mean people will decide not to visit.

As individuals, our team at BVA BDRC has well developed opinions on the subject – the Story of our Times podcast on Penrhyn Castle will give you a clue as to mine – but as consultants who work in the sector, we also seek to understand the objective truth, so we put the question to the general public, asking a nationally representative UK sample (1,750) the following question:

“In the last couple of years, organisations such as The National Trust have started to examine the links their properties have with colonialism and historic slavery.

In cases where slavery has played a large role in the site’s history, how much do you agree or disagree these organisations should include information about their links to slavery as part of their on-site interpretation?”

Key findings
The key finding was that the majority of the population (55 per cent) supported information about links to slavery being included in the interpretation. Perhaps more importantly, only a small minority of 15 per cent opposed it, while 30 per cent had no firm opinion either way.

Notably, although support for this sort of interpretation falls as people get older, it remains significantly higher than ‘opposition’ in every single age group, meaning that the argument that there is a huge cultural divide by age are largely unfounded.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s majority support across all ethnic groups, with agreement increasing to 7 in 10 in UK residents of black ethnicity. For sites that champion an inclusive agenda, this figure may be enough motivation to update interpretation in itself.

We tried in vain to find an audience that is more likely to oppose, but such was the support for the suggestion, we were unsuccessful.  The closest we came was among ‘anti-vaxxers’.  But even among this ‘counter- cultural’ audience, support was higher than opposition – 39 per cent to 27 per cent.

A few words about the minority
This is a complex subject with many layers and nuances, and we don’t expect this one question to provide meaningful recommendations.  But we hope it demonstrates that – despite what some tabloids may say – opposition to including links to slavery is only held among a minority of the general public.

However, we mustn’t forget this minority either and although 15 per cent is a relatively small number, no venue would want to lose or upset this amount of visitors. With any additional interpretation on slavery, this minority will want to be reassured that their ‘traditional visit’ is protected and that extra interpretation adds depth rather than taking anything away.

Our ‘Brand Purpose’ report suggests that one possible objection from these detractors is that places are responding to a ‘woke’ political agenda.  

It found that although there was significant support for the inclusion of marketing on race, gender and sexuality, many felt that brands were jumping on a bandwagon.  

To avoid the accusation of ‘wokery’, it’s really important that historic visitor attractions separate themselves from big brands that appear to be jumping on a bandwagon. This shouldn’t be too difficult – a centuries old country house is likely to have more of an authentic story to tell than a brand of rice (for example!). One way of achieving this separation is by ensuring any references to slavery are supported by robust source material, and that the stories they tell are intrinsically linked to the site’s history. 

Venues should also be inclusive in their inclusivity – that is, rather than focusing on just one under-represented audience, drawing attention to all the groups that may be linked to the site. Attractions may also want to think about avoiding perceptions of tokenism and integrating this interpretation into the site’s story, as opposed to box-ticking with a standalone exhibition.

"Despite what some tabloids may say, opposition to including links to slavery is only found among a minority" – Jon Young, BVA BDRC

The controversial renoval of the Colston statue in Bristol triggered a debate about slave links Credit: shutterstock/Ian Luck
Organisations should include information about their links to slavery as part of their on-site interpretation
The owners of Stowe House benefitted from the slave trade. The richest family in England, they later became the ‘greatest debtors in the world’ Credit: shutterstock/Pajor Pawel
The National Trust’s Lacock Abbey – owned by slave traders and the location for corridor scenes in the Harry Potter films Credit: shutterstock/ tviolet
The National Trust’s Lacock Abbey – owned by slave traders and the location for corridor scenes in the Harry Potter films Credit: shutterstock/Michael Warwick
The National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle – built with proceeds from the slave trade and owned by anti-abolitionists Credit: National Trust Images / Paul Harris
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All of history

A growing honesty in relation to the subject of slavery has led to some attractions revising their policies and approach. Jon Young from BVA BDRC looks at visitor opinions on this shift


In September 2020, the UK’s National Trust published an interim report on historic slavery and colonialism links to the places it cares for. There were a number of complaints after the report came out, with claims the group had acted outside its charitable purposes by drawing attention to links between, for example, Winston Churchill’s former home at Chartwell and colonialism. 

The UK Charity Commission found no grounds for regulatory action against the National Trust, commenting that it was “satisfied that the trustees recognised and carefully considered the potential negative reaction that could result from the publication of the report”.

In a blog post, National Trust director-general Hilary McGrady said: “There is so much to be proud of in our history. The wonderful collection of places the Trust cares for, that have been cherished for generations before us, is a testament to that. However, history can also be challenging and contentious. It is surely a sign of confidence, integrity and pride that while we can celebrate and enjoy history, we can also explore and acknowledge all aspects of it. The National Trust is at its best when we capture this complexity – when we present facts and material evidence in ways that inspire curiosity, inquiry, learning and sharing. 

“We’re developing a programme of rounded interpretation at properties,” said McGrady, “Balance and integration will be at the heart of this programme. Our curatorial teams continue doing vital work with properties to make sure we have the highest standards of presentation and interpretation at these places. We are here for all of history – for everyone, for ever.”

An example of the National Trust’s slavery insights can be seen in its work on Penrhyn Castle at www.attractionsmanagement.com/Penrhyn

An industry-wide issue
Although the National Trust received much of the attention on this subject, a number of other operators have also sought to re-evaluate how they talk about this subject area.

A key concern is the impact any reinterpretation will have on attraction visitor numbers.

Some worry that by drawing attention to the negative side of history, the ‘idealistic Downton Abbey traditionalist’ may decide not to visit, but others argue that following the events of 2020, the public’s understanding of how historic sites relate to slavery has shifted. There is an expectation that interpretation conveys the full history of a venue (‘warts and all’) and by doing nothing, they’ll be providing a sanitised version of what happened, which will lead to a less fulfilling visitor experience. It could also mean people will decide not to visit.

As individuals, our team at BVA BDRC has well developed opinions on the subject – the Story of our Times podcast on Penrhyn Castle will give you a clue as to mine – but as consultants who work in the sector, we also seek to understand the objective truth, so we put the question to the general public, asking a nationally representative UK sample (1,750) the following question:

“In the last couple of years, organisations such as The National Trust have started to examine the links their properties have with colonialism and historic slavery.

In cases where slavery has played a large role in the site’s history, how much do you agree or disagree these organisations should include information about their links to slavery as part of their on-site interpretation?”

Key findings
The key finding was that the majority of the population (55 per cent) supported information about links to slavery being included in the interpretation. Perhaps more importantly, only a small minority of 15 per cent opposed it, while 30 per cent had no firm opinion either way.

Notably, although support for this sort of interpretation falls as people get older, it remains significantly higher than ‘opposition’ in every single age group, meaning that the argument that there is a huge cultural divide by age are largely unfounded.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s majority support across all ethnic groups, with agreement increasing to 7 in 10 in UK residents of black ethnicity. For sites that champion an inclusive agenda, this figure may be enough motivation to update interpretation in itself.

We tried in vain to find an audience that is more likely to oppose, but such was the support for the suggestion, we were unsuccessful.  The closest we came was among ‘anti-vaxxers’.  But even among this ‘counter- cultural’ audience, support was higher than opposition – 39 per cent to 27 per cent.

A few words about the minority
This is a complex subject with many layers and nuances, and we don’t expect this one question to provide meaningful recommendations.  But we hope it demonstrates that – despite what some tabloids may say – opposition to including links to slavery is only held among a minority of the general public.

However, we mustn’t forget this minority either and although 15 per cent is a relatively small number, no venue would want to lose or upset this amount of visitors. With any additional interpretation on slavery, this minority will want to be reassured that their ‘traditional visit’ is protected and that extra interpretation adds depth rather than taking anything away.

Our ‘Brand Purpose’ report suggests that one possible objection from these detractors is that places are responding to a ‘woke’ political agenda.  

It found that although there was significant support for the inclusion of marketing on race, gender and sexuality, many felt that brands were jumping on a bandwagon.  

To avoid the accusation of ‘wokery’, it’s really important that historic visitor attractions separate themselves from big brands that appear to be jumping on a bandwagon. This shouldn’t be too difficult – a centuries old country house is likely to have more of an authentic story to tell than a brand of rice (for example!). One way of achieving this separation is by ensuring any references to slavery are supported by robust source material, and that the stories they tell are intrinsically linked to the site’s history. 

Venues should also be inclusive in their inclusivity – that is, rather than focusing on just one under-represented audience, drawing attention to all the groups that may be linked to the site. Attractions may also want to think about avoiding perceptions of tokenism and integrating this interpretation into the site’s story, as opposed to box-ticking with a standalone exhibition.

"Despite what some tabloids may say, opposition to including links to slavery is only found among a minority" – Jon Young, BVA BDRC

The controversial renoval of the Colston statue in Bristol triggered a debate about slave links Credit: shutterstock/Ian Luck
Organisations should include information about their links to slavery as part of their on-site interpretation
The owners of Stowe House benefitted from the slave trade. The richest family in England, they later became the ‘greatest debtors in the world’ Credit: shutterstock/Pajor Pawel
The National Trust’s Lacock Abbey – owned by slave traders and the location for corridor scenes in the Harry Potter films Credit: shutterstock/ tviolet
The National Trust’s Lacock Abbey – owned by slave traders and the location for corridor scenes in the Harry Potter films Credit: shutterstock/Michael Warwick
The National Trust’s Penrhyn Castle – built with proceeds from the slave trade and owned by anti-abolitionists Credit: National Trust Images / Paul Harris
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IAAPA Expo Europe was established in 2006 and has grown to the largest international conference and [more...]
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David & Lynn Willrich started the Company over thirty years ago, from the Audio Visual Department [more...]
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QubicaAMF is the largest and most innovative bowling equipment provider with 600 employees worldwi [more...]
+ More profiles  
VIDEO GALLERY

Red Raion TV - Testimonial: Leolandia
When you work in the Attractions Industry, there’s nothing better than seeing that dreamy look in the eyes of the people who have just tried your attraction. Find out more...
More videos:
Red Raion TV - Opening Event: FICO Eataly World – Red Raion
Keynote | Moby Dick - Friends to the rescue! – Red Raion
Red Raion Showreel 2021 – Red Raion
+ More videos  

CATALOGUE GALLERY
+ More catalogues  
DIRECTORY
+ More directory  
DIARY

 

03-04 Sep 2022

HEALING SUMMIT 2022 - The Healing of Everything

Pine Cliff Resort, Portugal
27-29 Sep 2022

International Congress on Thermal Tourism

Ourense, Ourense, Spain
+ More diary  
 


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Tel: +44 (0)1462 431385

©Cybertrek 2022

ABOUT LEISURE MEDIA
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