The National Trust’s controversial ‘colonial countryside’ project which has examined links between the trust’s stately homes and Britain’s imperial past was funded with £160,000 taxpayers’ and lottery money, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
The project with Leicester University – titled ‘Colonial Countryside: Reinterpreting English Country Houses’ – received £99,600 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund and £58,331 from Arts Council England.
The Common Sense group of Conservative MPs have now written to Oliver Dowden, the Culture secretary, asking him to investigate how the funding was agreed for the project.
As part of the project National Trust staff and volunteers were “reverse-mentored” by children so they can explain the colonial links of some of its country houses.
The Trust arranged for staff and volunteers to be told about the impact of the British empire by so-called “child advisory boards” at a number of selected properties. None of the Trust’s team was forced to take part.
The four year Colonial Countryside project – which has been run by Prof Corinne Fowler at the University of Leicester – has been examining “a range of colonial links, including slave-produced sugar wealth, East India Company connections, black servants, Indian loot, Francis Drake and African circumnavigators, colonial business interests, holders of colonial office, Chinese wallpaper, Victorian plant hunters and imperial interior design”, according to a description on the university’s website.
Sir John Hayes MP, the chairman of the Common Sense group, said: “It is abhorrent that hard working patriots should fund the enormously costly, damaging and unpatriotic projects of well-heeled privileged left wing activists.”
Tory MP Andrew Murrison added: “‘Lottery money should not be diverted from good causes to right-on pedagogy that takes as its starting point the worst possible view of this country and its history.” The National Lottery Heritage Fund said it had awarded the University of Leicester’s project ‘Colonial Countryside: Reinterpreting English Country Houses’ a grant of £99,600 in Feb 2018.
The grant was signed off by senior staff at the fund because it was below £100,000 and so did not need to be presented at committee level.
Inspiring the next generation
A spokesman for the fund defended the grant, saying: “Hands-on education such as this helps to inspire the next generation of archivists, curators, historians and writers.”
The Arts Council said it had awarded a grant of £58,331 “for this three-year creative writing and history project which finished in December 2020, through our National Lottery Project Grants programme” in Dec 2017. A spokesman said: “This project aimed to open their doors to children from different areas and backgrounds and give them the chance to get excited about history and to learn, think and question. It allowed them to examine the good and bad of our past to deepen their understanding.”
An Arts Council source added: “Grants go through a rigorous assessment process against a criteria which measures them on quality, public engagement, finance and management, and after being awarded funding they are appropriately monitored to ensure that the project is carried out and completed.
“As a funder, however, we do not get into the detail of how the activities that make up the project are delivered.”
A spokesman for the National Trust said: “Exploring and sharing the history of places we look after is part of our job and completely within our charitable objectives.”
She added: “The purpose of the project was to provide children with a unique opportunity to engage in national heritage conversations on country houses’ links to colonialism”
A University of Leicester spokesman said: “The Colonial Countryside project has played an important role in broadening knowledge and awareness of our shared history and heritage, and has been welcomed by both pupils and schools.