The National Trust and its Tenants - Then and Now

The National Trust was founded in 1895 by Lady Octavia Hill and others. Octavia Hill was a social reformer and a social housing provider in her own right. She gave to the nation in the name of The National Trust one of its first properties to provide the nation’s under-privileged an area of countryside for them to share and enjoy. 

In the following century up to the present day other benefactors with similar ideals continued to give their estates to the nation in the care of the National Trust in the common interest. A condition of the bequest in many cases where there were existing tenants of the estate was that these affected tenants and their families should continue to occupy their native homes if they wished. Although the modern popular opinion is that landlords and tenants can never be friends, the opposite was largely the case with the original private landlords who understood the social circumstances of their tenants which was reflected in the wishes of the bequests. 

The majority of affected existing tenants were local working class people with no alternative housing prospects. The National Trust in accepting such bequests assumed the responsibility for the care and preservation of the properties. At the same time The National Trust inherited the housing responsibility of those existing tenants becoming thereby a social landlord in the process. Those sitting tenants welcomed The National Trust as their guest to the estates which were their native homes.  

It is acknowledged that there is a wide variety of tenants of properties in the care of The National Trust. There have always been tenants of larger more expensive houses with whom the local native population live, work and worship amicably together. All tenants take pride in their role of custodians in The National Trust’s absence, of the homes which they and in many cases their ancestors occupied and may even have built. 

It is agreed that The National Trust serves the nation well in its objectives to preserve places of historic interest and natural beauty “for everyone for ever”.  However it should be noted that the tenants of the charity contribute even more than their landlord to those objectives. Local war memorials are full of the names of tenants predecessors who gave their lives for their homes and the nation. Because the law governing rent levels favours the landlord more than the tenant, lifelong native tenants of the National Trust are merely expected to give their life savings to the charity instead of their lives. So the saying “for everyone for ever” really means “for everyone except local people for ever”.  Even though The National Trust was given their homes in the first place it still demands uncharitable maximum rent increases from elderly pensioners on low fixed incomes at a time of economic recession, cutbacks, and  frozen pensions.  The result is that there is no future for local people in their native villages and hastens the end of family continuity and the destruction of communities. Bearing in mind that the rent assessed by the Rent Officer Service is the maximum which the landlord can charge I believe I am justified in requesting The National Trust to similarly freeze rent increases in the above conditions. Please advise. 

As elderly native residents vacate their lifelong family homes the properties can be expected to be left unoccupied for long periods before necessary refurbishments are made and the property is relet at double the rent which is locally affordable. The remaining trusted tenants fear that this will be used to justify the increase in their own rents to a similar punitive level. The senseless practice of converting family homes to holiday lets in the very heart of a village where there is a housing waiting list exacerbates the situation.  Eventually the charity will achieve its apparent purpose of gentrifying villages to become collections of strangers who are able and prepared to pay the highest rent and a national way of life will be gone for ever. 

There is no animosity in this account which is just the experience of one with a lifetime’s involvement with the National Trust since commencing as a volunteer 65 years ago at the age of 11 and as a tenant for nearly 40 years.   It would be interesting to hear if any other elderly registered protected tenants can relate to this regrettable state of affairs. 

The problem which elderly local tenants face when they can no longer afford the rent for their native homes is ongoing. The National Trust kindly undertakes in the Tenants Handbook to put tenants in touch with professional independent agencies who will advise them how to safeguard the roofs over their heads. Would The National Trust please identify the said agencies so that we may reassure ourselves of their assistance in advance? 

W. L. Stevens age 76
Registered Protected Tenant of The National Trust
Tenancy commenced 1st. October 1974
Chairman Lacock Tenants Association
Vice-chairman TANT