National Trust appoints RSPCA chief as its new chairman

National Trust awakes from woke: Charity appoints RSPCA chief as its new chairman after criticism of predecessor’s obsession with fighting culture wars

  • Rene Olivieri has been appointed new chairman and will take up post in February
  • Mr Olivieri was chairman of Wildlife Trusts for six years and chairman at RSPCA
  • Comes after former boss Tim Parker quit amid row over charity’s ‘woke’ direction

The National Trust has appointed the RSPCA’S chief as its new chairman just months after its former boss quit amid a growing row over the ‘woke’ direction the charity was taking.  

American-born Rene Olivieri, 68, who has also held a number of non-executive roles in the cultural and natural heritage sector, has been selected to take up the post with the Trust in February, the charity announced.

The decision to appoint Mr Olivieri, who has been described as a ‘safe pair of hands’, comes just months after the former chairman of the National Trust, Tim Parker, quit amid a growing row over the ‘woke’ direction of the charity.

Mr Parker left just 24 hours after members were left furious by the charity’s recent focus on politically correct issues – which included linking properties to colonialism.

Members, ministers and MPs had grown increasingly frustrated with Mr Parker’s chairmanship, which critics said he used to take the 126-year-old charity in a ‘bourgeois’ and ‘politically correct’ direction.    

Rene Olivieri, who is also chairman of the animal charity the RSPCA, has been selected to take up the post with the National Trust in February

However the charity’s new appointment, Mr Olivieri, has never publicly been involved in any political rows or commented on so-called ‘culture wars’.

He was interim chairman of the National Lottery Heritage Fund and a member of both the Culture Recovery Fund Board and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport’s Cultural and Heritage Capital Advisory Board.

He was chairman of the Wildlife Trusts for six years and has held the role at the RSPCA since 2019.

Speaking on his new appointment he said: ‘As a charity and national institution with a 126-year history, it’s uniquely placed to recognise the debt to the generations that have gone before and its responsibility to those which follow.

‘I believe the National Trust is the body that makes essential connections in our world, between the past and future, nature and heritage and between people from all parts of society.

‘We must all work together to preserve and promote our heritage while taking climate action and restoring nature.

‘I want to ensure the National Trust, which is privileged to be able to take such a long view, plays a leading role in realising these ambitions.’

Mr Olivieri’s role will be to provide leadership to the board of trustees and the council, and support and guide director-general Hilary McGrady and her team in delivering the strategy of the charity, which has more than five million members.

Ms McGrady said: ‘I’m delighted Rene is joining us as chair.

‘We have the same ambition: to give as many people as possible access to the incredible collections, houses, land and coastline that we care for on behalf of England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Former chairman Tim Parker quit amid a growing row over the ‘woke’ direction the charity was taking this year

The National Trust said Mr Olivieri will bring his ‘unique experience’ in both culture and nature to the charity

‘Rene brings passion, knowledge and a superb blend of skills and I am delighted to be able to work with him to fulfil our shared ambition.’ 

Last September, the Trust published a 115-page report which ‘blacklisted’ 93 of its estates over their alleged links to slavery – including Chartwell in Kent, home of Sir Winston Churchill.

The Charity Commission subsequently opened a regulatory compliance case and the heritage minister told Parliament that the report was ‘unfortunate’ and the Trust should go back to its ‘core functions’. 

In a statement posted on the Trust’s website, the charity said Mr Parker had ‘informed trustees of his decision the day after the Trust’s houses reopened to the public on 17 May, and will step down in October this year’.

Mr Parker had served two three-year terms and had agreed to a ‘third exceptional term’ to provide stability during the coronavirus pandemic which hit visitor numbers. 

Restore Trust, which was founded by members earlier this year in a bid to stop history being ‘demonised’ by organisations including the National Trust, welcomed the news of Mr Parker’s departure.

In a statement published on its website, it said: ‘We are pleased that Mr Parker has decided to resign as National Trust, following the publication of our motion of no confidence in him that would have been put to this year’s Annual Meeting.

 ‘His position was clearly untenable given everything that has happened and the current crisis of confidence in the National Trust amongst its staff, volunteers and members.

‘What the National Trust needs now is a chair with a deep understanding and appreciation of our nation’s heritage.

‘We also call on the Board of Trustees to make this an open and accountable process so that their shortlist of potential candidates is published and they present themselves and their proposals for the Trust to members in open events in the coming months.’

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