Membership, Engagement and the NCHT

Jessica Kemmish
 JOURNAL 
 2021 
 North Craven 
 Heritage Trust 

Outline of research

This project has been carried out as part of a MA degree at Lancaster University with the support of the North Craven Heritage Trust. The aim of this project has been to look at potential ways the NCHT can increase engagement with current members as well as grow its membership in the future, to ensure that it will continue to thrive as an organisation. When I embarked upon this project I was surprised by the lack of literature on the subject and on the challenges faced by voluntary local heritage organisations. What does exist tends to focus specifically upon local museums or local organisations looking after particular sites or buildings of historical interest. The one area which has significant coverage is the increasing financial difficulties local heritage organisations are facing due to cuts in funding [1]. However, as the Trust does not rely upon grants for its funding this is not an issue for the organisation. For this reason, funding will not be discussed, and priority has been given to other topics.

There were three elements to the investigation. Firstly, research conducted through correspondence and interviews with local history and heritage organisations within the North-West and individuals who have volunteered or worked within the heritage sector. As part of this aspect of my research I contacted twenty-three organisations and individuals of whom sixteen replied. Some are named in this article, but others wished to remain anonymous [2]. Secondly, the results of a questionnaire distributed to members of the Trust via email in February 2020 and via hard copy to any members who attended the talk hosted by the Trust on the 12th February 2020. I wish to thank both the Trust committee for kindly distributing the questionnaire on my behalf and all members who kindly took the time to complete it. We received forty-four responses, providing a sample size which is greater than 10% of the total membership. Thirdly, some suggestions included below are based upon my own observations and ideas as well as those generated through several meetings with Mike Slater and Pam Jordan [3]. I hope that you will find this article both interesting and thought-provoking and that my research will in some small way have a positive impact upon the future preservation of the heritage of North Craven.

Recruitment of new members to the Trust

Whilst there is no need for an urgent recruitment drive it is still important to recruit new members in order to ensure that the Trust continues to flourish and enjoy a high level of support in the future. Although the Trust is financially reliant upon its membership it is through the support of individual members that the organisation is able to carry out its vital work to protect and preserve the heritage of North Craven and so achieve its key aims. It is therefore crucial that new members are continually recruited to the Trust. And you, as existing members, can help with this recruitment. The questionnaire revealed the vital role current members play in recruiting new members. A large majority of respondents, 64%, said that they had first found out about the Trust through a friend. The significance of this is that it demonstrates the vital role each of you can and do play through spreading the word about the Trust. So please do continue to talk to friends about the Trust and invite them along to events. By doing so you are inviting your friends along to something that they will enjoy and also supporting the work of the Trust.

Alongside word of mouth and the efforts of current members, advertising is also an important way to recruit new members. Of the six respondents to the questionnaire who had been a member of the Trust for only 1-2 years, three had first found out about the organisation through posters and the advertising of talks. This suggests that advertising through posters, leaflets and other means remains important.

Among the work undertaken by the Trust is the provision of grants for the restoration of buildings of historical significance in North Craven. The Trust also both carries out research itself and provides grants to students from Lancaster University to carry out research into the history of the area, in order to preserve that information for future generations and make it more accessible. The Trust monitors planning proposals to ensure that the natural beauty and heritage of the area are maintained. It facilitates the sharing and celebration of the heritage of North Craven through events, the Journal, the website and its social media pages. Yet, many people in the local area probably remain unaware of the great work the organisation does and the Trust has been very modest about its achievements, not blowing its own trumpet enough.

For example, as many of you will know, the Trust provides grants to help with the preservation and restoration of buildings of historical significance in North Craven, which are not privately owned, through the Historic Buildings Fund. A notable example of a recent project which the Trust helped to fund was the restoration of the Priest’s Door at Kirkby Malham Church. This restoration and others like it have succeeded in conserving some significant parts of the heritage of North Craven and details of these projects can be found online via the website. Your support as a member helps to enable these grants to be given and thus for this vital conservation to be carried out. However, there are probably more projects out there which could benefit from the assistance of a grant. Meanwhile, there is a lack of knowledge amongst people in the local area that the Trust is able and willing to support such projects. If you as members could therefore spread the word of the Historic Building Fund to people in the local area and keep an ear out for any appropriate projects it would be greatly appreciated. Meanwhile, the Trust could also look to advertise the availability of grants through online directories such as The Heritage Funding Directory [4]. Informing local parish councils of the grants available may also be beneficial in helping to identify future projects.

The Trust should strive to celebrate its successes more and through advertising share these successes with people living in the local area to raise awareness about the great work it undertakes. This in turn should garner greater support for the Trust and attract new members. For this reason, it would seem wise to explore possible ways to expand its advertising in the future, perhaps through publicising its work in local newspapers such as the Craven Herald who will often publicise the work of charitable organisations free of charge. Adverts could also be placed in magazines, something which other heritage groups have found to be successful. Mark Corner, who was previously chairman of the Friends of the Dales, highlighted that advertising in the Dalesman magazine and including an insert of their leaflet led to the recruitment of around one hundred new members. Hence, it may be worthwhile for the Trust to explore the possibility of advertising in magazines. In addition advertising could also be done through local radio stations such as the Dales Radio or similar radio stations. Obtaining an interview on the radio would act as a form of free advertising and would allow the Trust to speak about the great work it does in relation to preserving the heritage of North Craven for the future.

It may also be beneficial to review how some forms of advertising currently used by the organisation could potentially be adapted to make them more effective. For example, leaflets distributed by the Trust could have the programme of upcoming events included in them to give prospective members an idea of the kinds of subjects covered at talks. New ways of distributing leaflets could also be investigated, including current members distributing leaflets to friends and potentially putting leaflets in estate agents in the hopes that these may be seen by people who have newly arrived in the area.

Another form of advertising which the Trust can continue to develop is its use of social media. With the world we live in becoming increasingly digitalised the Trust has endeavoured to expand its online presence. Pam Jordan has thus far done a sterling job of setting up social media pages for the Trust on both Twitter and Facebook and it’s reach on social media is growing. At the time of writing this article the Facebook page for example currently has eighty-five ‘likes’, a figure which has risen from sixty-eight ‘likes’ around four months ago. Both the Twitter and Facebook pages are regularly updated with information about upcoming events. Like any other form of advertising, information posted about events may persuade non-members who see the pages to attend an event or even become a member. Several of the local history and heritage organisations I contacted did report that they have had a small number of new members join as a result of their social media pages and through Facebook in particular. Events are also publicised online through Facebook groups which advertise events within the North Craven area free of charge such as ‘Visit Settle’. Advertising through these local group pages could be expanded to cover more areas of North Craven. This would be worthwhile pursuing because adverts on these local group pages are probably more likely to be seen by someone new to the area. This is because finding these pages only requires knowing the name of the town or village rather than knowing the name of the Trust.

Social media could also be used to advertise the wider activities of the Trust beyond the events it runs. It is likely that many residents of North Craven are unaware that the Trust carries out work to evaluate and assess, and then if necessary, campaign against, proposed building developments within the area. However, social media could be used to spread the word and to gain support for individual campaigns. Gaining a large following and support from non-members on social media for a particular campaign against a planning application could help to demonstrate to the local council the level of opposition by adding to the already large voice the Trust has on such matters. Other local heritage groups, such as the Friends of the Dales have found that social media can be an effective way to gain support from non-members, and so hopefully the Trust may be able to replicate their success.

However, it is important to highlight that social media is not in itself an answer to all recruitment issues. As Dr Sam Riches, Academic Co-ordinator of the Regional Heritage Centre at Lancaster University, highlighted, social media ‘is important but although it can be seen as a solution for everything relating to marketing and communication in reality it definitely isn’t.’ Dr Riches emphasised that not all engagement online via social media is necessarily meaningful engagement. Hence, someone showing their support for the Trust online via social media would not automatically translate into them offering direct support by becoming a member or attending an event. Despite this ‘the use of social media can be a part of a good strategy as it can raise awareness of an organisation and also be used to publicise the outputs of projects.’ [5]

It should be noted that any expansion in advertising, via social media or other means, will probably require the investment of funds as well as the dedication and hard work of the trustees on the committee. Several of the heritage organisations I spoke to stressed the value of having a strong committee for the recruitment of new members and particularly of having specific trustees whose roles are dedicated to publicity and recruiting new members. Cartmel Peninsula Local History Society, for example, emphasised that through having a committee member who focused solely upon publicising their society they were able to increase their membership by 100%. This is a remarkable achievement.

On the wider issue of the committee, it is vital that the Trust maintains a board of dedicated trustees to ensure that it continues to thrive in the future. However, recruiting trustees is no easy task. Amongst the local history groups and heritage organisations I contacted problems with recruiting new trustees was one of the top concerns expressed by respondents. If the Trust is to continue to flourish new trustees will be required in the future. I would therefore urge anyone who feels strongly about the aims of the Trust and who would be willing to volunteer some of their time to achieve those aims to consider becoming a trustee either now or in the future.

Another issue which was frequently raised by the local heritage and history organisations I contacted and which was also identified by several respondents to the questionnaire, was the difficulty in attracting and recruiting younger members. Attracting a diverse range of people is also an issue which the wider heritage sector in the UK faces [6]. The difficulty in attracting younger members may stem from a lack of interest in heritage amongst younger age groups. However, this seems unlikely to be a complete explanation given that there are individuals of all age groups who have an interest in both history and heritage, as shown by the thousands of students who opt to study history each year and people of all ages choosing to visit museums or sites of historical interest. Alternatively, the lack of younger members in local heritage organisations may reflect that those who have retired have more time in which to pursue their own interests than those who are working, studying or have young children. One heritage organisation I spoke to noted that their talks had on occasion attracted some younger people based on the subject of that specific talk being of interest. However, one younger person lamented that whilst they had thoroughly enjoyed the talk and were interested in local history they could not commit to always attending due to family and work commitments and so only attended as a one-off. Whilst this therefore suggests that it will remain very difficult to recruit younger members to join the Trust it may still be possible to persuade more people to attend specific talks if the right topics are chosen. If particular topics of greater interest to younger people could be identified and speakers found who would be willing to present on these topics then it may be possible to attract a more diverse age range. One possible area to pursue may be having a greater focus on the environment. In recent times many young people have engaged in campaigns, protests and debates about climate change. Hence, if the Trust were to offer talks on the environment and the impact of climate change on the local area it is possible that these talks may help to attract people of all ages.

Furthermore, there are several potential ways to engage with younger people, for example with pupils within local schools. Previous attempts to do this have proved to be difficult due to schools having little leeway within their curriculum. However, there is the possibility that the Trust could support some A level students as they complete what is known as an Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This involves students completing an independent research project on a topic of their choice and then producing either a five-thousand-word essay or creating an artefact (e.g. a piece of art or a short film). The Trust may therefore be able to suggest a list of ideas for topics and then support those students in the completion of their project by directing them to resources.

It is important that any changes made do not negatively impact upon current members. For example, changing the time of talks so that they are hosted in the evening could make them more accessible to younger people who may be unable to attend daytime meetings due to work commitments. However, doing this may be to the detriment of current members, most of whom are retired and for whom meetings during the daytime are preferable and easier to attend, particularly during the winter months. It is therefore important that any changes are given due consideration.

Engagement with members

As well as recruiting new members it is equally important to increase engagement with current members. The Trust should seek to provide more ways for members to contribute to discussions about the heritage of North Craven. When conducting my research one of the heritage groups, Lancaster and District Heritage Group, kindly invited me to attend one of their meetings to learn more about their group. One of the things I most enjoyed about the meeting was how all members had the opportunity to share any research they had been doing and to contribute to the meeting. It was really lovely to see several of the members speak passionately about their particular interests in the heritage of the local area and I think it would be great if the Trust could adopt something similar in the future. Doing so would provide members with opportunities to get more involved in the work of the Trust and to share their enthusiasm for the heritage of North Craven.

Furthermore, the vast majority of the forty-four respondents to the questionnaire mentioned an interest in the history of North Craven as either a driving factor for their joining the Trust or one of the reasons they continue to enjoy being a member. The Trust should do more to foster this interest in history amongst its members. Whilst the monthly talks and the annual Journal may be enough to serve this interest in local history for some members, the Trust recognises that other members may enjoy having further opportunities to pursue their interest in the heritage of North Craven. The committee would therefore like to encourage any members who wish to pursue a particular interest in the local area to do so. If you would like to carry out some of your own research but you are not sure where to start or what topic to choose you could look for inspiration amongst the resources on the Trust website or ask the committee who may be able to help you with ideas to get you started. This research could also be done in small groups, perhaps meeting over a cup of tea once a week or fortnight. The research could then be presented to other members at meetings or published in the Newsletter and Journal. As well as being an enjoyable activity you would also be making a positive contribution to the preservation of the heritage of North Craven.

Another potential platform for sharing research undertaken by members could also be through the Trust’s social media pages. The Facebook page in particular could be a place for members to share any new discoveries they make to engage in discussions. Photos taken by members could also be shared to showcase and celebrate the heritage of North Craven. If there was sufficient interest, a different theme could be chosen each month with members sharing photos taken in North Craven to fit that theme. This is something that the National Trust does each week on its social media pages and which the Trust could replicate on a more local level.

In the future it may be possible for the Trust to use social media to enable members who are unable to attend talks to enjoy them from the comfort of their own home through a live streaming of the event. Live streaming would effectively enable members to watch an event in a similar way to how live television is broadcast but with the added benefit of being able to pose questions to the speaker in real-time. However, it should also be acknowledged that currently only a minority of members use social media. Of those who responded to the questionnaire 30% said that they used some form of social media. Whilst 30% is a significant figure the actual percentage of all members who use social media may be lower than this. Thus, when thinking about ways to engage with members it is crucial that the Trust also looks beyond social media. For example, one way to increase engagement with members and one which was raised by several respondents to the questionnaire would be to conduct more local guided walks during the summer months. Doing so would provide more opportunities for members to gather together, learn more about the local area and enjoy the heritage of North Craven.

Conclusions

The approaches and suggestions discussed in this article are just some of the potential ways in which the Trust could seek to recruit new members and to increase engagement with current members. It is also not possible to tell how successful the approaches suggested will be until they have been tried. However, I hope that some of these approaches will prove fruitful and that my project has at least opened up a conversation about how to approach these two issues which will continue into the future.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Mike Slater, Pam Jordan and Mark Corner for their support and assistance in completing this project. Likewise, I would like to express my gratitude to all members who completed the questionnaire. I also wish to thank all the representatives of local history and heritage organisations and individuals who have worked or volunteered within the heritage sector for kindly sharing their experiences.

Notes

  1. An interesting article on the financial difficulties facing heritage organisations is Bagwell, Sally, Corry Dan and Rotheroe Abigail, ‘The future of funding: Options for heritage and cultural organisations’, Cultural Trends, vol.1, issue 24 (2015) pp.28-33.
  2. The organisations who gave me permission to include their names included Cartmel Peninsula Local History Society, Cumbria Amenity Trust Mining History Society, Lancaster and Derwent Fells Local History Society, Lancaster and District Heritage Group and Lorton & Derwent Fells Local History Society.
  3. The research for this article was conducted from January to April 2020.
  4. The Heritage Funding Directory website can be found at https://www.heritagefundingdirectoryuk.org/#home/?view_3_page=2
  5. These quotes are from notes taken from an interview conducted with Dr Sam Riches on 28/02/2020. I wish to thank Dr Riches for kindly agreeing to participate in the interview and for aiding me with my research.
  6. Ian Brinkley, Naomi Clayton, Charles Levy, Katy Morris, and Jonathan Wright, Heritage in the 2020 Knowledge Economy, A report for the Heritage Lottery Fund (May 2010) pp.34-35. Available at: https://historicengland.org.uk/content/heritage-counts/pub/2012/work-foundation-heritage-2020-pdf/


Response to Jessica Kemmish’s article on Membership, Engagement and the Trust

Pamela Jordan

The Trustees are very grateful to Jessica Kemmish for the excellent report that she presented following the Bursary we awarded her last year. It has given us a number of things to think about and work on, to ensure that the Trust continues to thrive as an organisation.

We are continually looking at ways to promote ourselves and it was unfortunate that a promotion day that we had organised at Booths had to be cancelled because of the pandemic but we are hopeful that it will take place sometime this year. We are seeking coverage in local publications, particularly parish magazines and community news, and continue to try to find ways to increase our online profile.

One of our biggest challenges is how to attract younger members and we are going to explore with the local schools the suggestion of supporting students with their studies for an Extended Project Qualification. We feel that activities such as our collaboration with the Friends of the Dales for the environmental conference may appeal to younger people.

We note that many members joined the Trust through an interest in local history and we hope soon to start some small research projects with which members could get involved. Walks and outings this last year had to be cancelled for obvious reasons but we are aware of the benefits of such activities and intend to resume them as soon as we are able to do so safely.

A positive thing to have come out of the pandemic has been the use of Zoom meetings and we will investigate whether we could stream meetings, for those not able to attend actual meetings, when they hopefully resume in the near future.

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