Campaigners hope talks will save public access to medieval manor house
- Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Campaigners opposing the National Trust’s plans for the permanent closure to the public of the Shute Barton medieval manor house are due to meet a Trust official later this week.
A petition set up to fight the controversial proposal quickly reached more than 750 signatures and the issue made headlines in the national press.
The protest was triggered when the National Trust announced in a letter to Shute Barton volunteer guides that the house would become exclusively a holiday property and that the general public would no longer be able to access it. The letter, from David Ford, the Trust’s general manager for South and East Devon properties, also informed Shute Barton guides that their services would no longer be required. The Trust blamed Covid-related cutbacks for the closure. The decision was made without any public consultation.
But on Wednesday the Trust appeared to strike a more conciliatory tone.
Dr Bijan Omrani, secretary and acting chair of the Shute Parochial Church Council, which opposes the closure plan, told the Herald on Thursday: “Last night, the National Trust sent an email saying it would like to meet representatives of the Shute community to discuss ways forward.
“We do hope we will be able to find some way to keep it accessible to the public. We acknowledge it has been a difficult time for the National Trust but if they do work together with the community and are open with us I’m sure we will step up and help.”
Public access to the 14th century property is currently just four weekends a year.
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Dr Omrani said: “We don’t know why it is so difficult to maintain such a small amount of access. If there are burdens that the volunteers could help with, we would look at that.
“But we hadn’t been consulted beforehand and the Trust’s initial responses didn’t give us any sense that they wanted to engage. But if we can be creative in our thinking together there will be a lot of support in the community and I don’t think it will be hard for the Trust to repair the public relations damage that has been done.”
Shute Parish Council also condemned the closure plan.
In a statement, the council said: “The decision seems very short-sighted. Opening Shute Barton draws in visitors to the area and supports the church and other hospitality businesses in the area.”
The council statement added: “Closing the access, which was only ever four weekends a year, means that the house will now only be accessible to a very select few, those with the means to stay in the property.”
According to the National Trust website, a three-night stay at Shute Barton costs £1,761.
A National Trust South West spokesman told the Herald: “Shute Barton will remain as holiday accommodation as it always has been. We will continue to work with the local community on how we can offer public benefit.
“Like most charities, the National Trust has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. We are facing financial losses of more than £200 million, meaning we have had to look at how we can continue our conservation work and offer our supporters the best possible experience over the coming years, with far fewer resources.”