Exchanging ideas with European Trusts
A blog by Zara Luxford, General Manager, National Trust, on how working with the Czech National Trust, Herita in Flanders, FAI and the National Trust of Slovakia opened doors to her own development
In 2021, INTO put out a call to General Managers, who were asked to submit an expression of interest in taking part in the SEECHT project.
Having been a General Manager for eight years and working as a heritage manager for 25 years, I was keen for to learn new things, as well as share knowledge from my own experience.
Thanks to the structure of the exchange, I spent time with heritage professionals from Slovakia, Belgium, Italy and Czechia. It was interesting to work with people from a range of heritage organisations, varying in size and approach.
Bratislava by train from London
I went to Bratislava, Slovakia for two weeks on my exchange in October 2022, alongside Puck Verstraeten from Herita in Belgium. We worked with Michaela Kubikova, Director of the National Trust of Slovakia (Narodny Trust) and a number of volunteers – Greta, Veronika, Lucia and Katerina.
As I don’t fly for environmental reasons, I travelled to Bratislava by train. This does take longer than flying, but I rather like train travel, seeing the changing landscapes and getting the chance to talk with fellow travellers.
Working with stakeholders
There is a significant difference in the size of the National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and the Narodny Trust, which has two properties and a small team of staff and volunteers. What was most interesting for me, was how they promote access to heritage primarily by working with external stakeholders.
They run an open gardens scheme in Slovakia, working with 50+ residents and organisations to foster an appreciation of heritage and access to it.
Removing barriers to visiting
Working more with external stakeholders at the properties I lead is something I have been developing with my colleagues, thinking about how we can provide access to groups who have barriers to visiting.
Working with and learning from Puck Verstraetten from Herita was great. Herita are a large heritage organisation, and open many of their buildings as visitor attractions with engaging public programming.
As an organisation they are dynamic in their approach to acquisition, partnerships and programming. I was pleased to have the opportunity to discuss this with Puck.
Hosting at the National Trust
We hosted return visits from Martin, Czech National Trust and Alessandra, FAI – Fondo per l’Ambiente Italiano. Martin was particularly interested in the garden and volunteering aspects of our work, and Alessandra in the visitor proposition and development of commercial offers.
We were delighted to be able to arrange for them to spend time with a variety of colleagues.
In June 2023, we all met again for a final conference in Prague (only two train changes from London!). This was a time to share and reflect on what we had learned professionally and personally during the exchange.
We’ve also worked together with INTO on the creation of a Broadening Access toolkit. The toolkit contains 12 case studies from the participants in the project.
One of the things that the exchange helped me to see, was how much I enjoyed discussing the development of the organisation with Narodny Trust. There were elements of coaching in this, as well as very active listening and reflection.
After returning from my exchange, a secondment opportunity as Interim Assistant Director for Operations came up. I’d never previously thought I’d be interested in this role, but my experience on the project, particularly having these developmental conversations, challenged my thinking and I decided to apply.
I have now completed my six-month secondment, which was a great development opportunity both personally and professionally. I’m confident that taking part in this exchange was the catalyst to apply, and I’d recommend looking out for opportunities to work with INTO – you never know where it may lead you.