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The Gardens Trust: Change in Chairs

Peter Hughes QC in his garden

The Gardens Trust sees a change in Chairs

Linden Groves, Strategic Development Officer, the Gardens Trust 

At the start of September, Dr James Bartos stepped down as Chairman of the national Gardens Trust, of which your own county Trust is a member. He has led the Gardens Trust from its formation five years ago and helped to establish it as the leading body for the conservation and protection of our historic parks and gardens. The Board of the Gardens Trust has elected current Board member Peter Hughes QC as the next Chairman.

The Gardens Trust is the only UK national charity dedicated to protecting and conserving our heritage of designed landscapes. Bringing together County Gardens Trusts, we collectively campaign, undertake research and conservation work, and encourage public appreciation and involvement. As a statutory consultee in the planning system, since 2015 the Gardens Trust has received nearly 10,000 planning consultations for England, addressing these with volunteer colleagues in County Gardens Trusts to provide expert responses on around 4000 potential threats to historic parks and gardens. Its ongoing efforts are helping to save important historic landscapes like Painshill in Surrey and Kedleston in Staffordshire from damaging changes such as roads, housing estates and misguided development. The Trust also provides advice to developers in the pre-planning and planning stages and has supported development that is sensitive to the historic significance of the site, as at Tottenham in Gloucestershire.

In the last five years, our capacity-building officers have trained over 500 volunteers, on topics ranging from responding to planning applications, to heritage values, to social media.

During Jim’s time as Chairman, the Gardens Trust has also acted as a campaigning body and as a hub organization for the landscape heritage sector. For instance, we contributed to the parliamentary debate about the future of public park funding, and we host an annual Assembly for the landscape sector, including for planning officers. One of the Trust’s main objectives is to promote our national heritage to as wide and diverse an audience as possible. As part of a project called Sharing Repton funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, we piloted five activities across the country, attended by 1,654 people, with more than another 1.5 million getting involved through media.

Underpinning all our activities has been excellence in research and scholarship. We publish the leading peer-reviewed journal Garden History, as well as GT News, and support research symposia and training days. We also offer lectures, educational courses, site visits and trips here and abroad.

The Gardens Trust is extremely proud of its achievements during its first five years and would like to thank Jim Bartos for his wise and firm leadership in steering us through.

Looking back on the past five years, Jim says, “It has been an honour and a privilege to be the first Chairman of the Gardens Trust since its formation from the merger five years ago of the Garden History Society and the Association of Gardens Trusts, then the umbrella organisation of the 36 County Gardens Trusts. Given this history, the Trust started with the great advantages of dedicated and experienced volunteers on the Board and the committees and a dedicated and professional staff. The early years involved very significant restructurings of our activities to create one efficient organisation. The logic of the merger, bringing together the expertise of a professional staff with volunteers in the counties, has worked, as evidenced by an exponentially larger number of planning applications that we have been able to deal with jointly. I am pleased to say that other goals of the merger have also been fulfilled: a much higher profile nationally for the Trust and ‘living within our means’, achieving small surpluses each year. I am confident that the Trust will have a great future and will play an important role in safeguarding and promoting the national landscape heritage.”

Jim is succeeded as Chairman by Peter Hughes QC. Peter was a senior barrister and judge, and since his retirement has studied for a Master’s degree in Garden and Landscape History. He lives in the Lake District, where he cares for an Arts and Crafts garden and is a member of Cumbria Gardens Trust. Peter says, “This is a challenging time for historic parks and gardens. During lockdown, we have all come to appreciate more the value of our own gardens and the opportunity to enjoy our range of gardens and open spaces. They are a great part of our heritage but they are vulnerable to change and lack of resources for their upkeep. They will be the focus of the Trust’s new project ‘Unforgettable Gardens’.  Building on the sound foundation that Jim has created, our task for the future is to make the vital work of the Gardens Trust known to a much wider audience.”

Dominic Cole CMLI FIOH VMM OBE, President of the Gardens Trust and past Chairman of the Garden History Society, says, “I am delighted that the Gardens Trust has had such a successful first five years and continues its great work in conserving our national heritage of parks and gardens, particularly those at risk. I am very impressed and thankful for the professionalism and dedication of our staff and volunteers and for the fantastic support from the County Gardens Trusts across the country. It is hugely important that our unique landscape heritage survives to be enjoyed by future generations.”

The Gardens Trust relies on members and donors to support its work so please consider joining. There is a special rate for those who are also members of County Gardens Trusts – £25 rather than £35.

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