Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.
New accounts published for the Restore Trust, a campaigning business with links to the opaquely-funded Tufton Street think tank set, indicate significant financial gains for the group over the past year – with assets rising from £76,592 in 2022 to £142,478 in 2023, an 86% increase.
Accounts for the controlling entity, RT2021, do not reveal sources of income but suggest that donors have been giving to the cause. The Restore Trust itself claims to be a grassroots organisation but declines to reveal the sources of its funding.
It operates as an insurgent pressure group, aiming to oppose what it describes as a “woke” agenda in the National Trust by trying to install its own members onto the 36-strong council of the charity.
It has been challenged on multiple occasions for presenting inaccurate information to the public, notably in one instance where it accused the Trust of “disappearing” two objects representing black people from a site as a result of “political correctness”, when in fact they had just been moved for conservation purposes.
On Monday, Labour’s Keir Starmer issued a thinly-veiled rebuttal to the organisation and right-wing critics of the 5.4-million-strong National Trust as it faces attacks from conservative culture warriors.
Don’t miss a story
Sign up to the Behind the Headlines newsletter (and get a free copy of Byline Times in the post)
Restore Trust has repeatedly challenged progressive actions and stances taken by the National Trust on social issues such as slavery and LGBTQ+ representation, and was established after a report was published highlighting historic connections between 93 Trust sites and colonialism and slavery.
The group has attempted to pass motions halting Trust participation in Pride events, which it describes as “divisive”, and against rewilding initiatives, albeit without these motions being carried.
Last year’s attempt to infiltrate the National Trust’s management saw an intervention from Nigel Farage, who waded into the debate proclaiming that he hoped “Restore Trust knocks a bit of common sense into what was once the great National Trust”.
National Trust director of communications Celia Richardson hit back at the comments, saying “the National Trust is respected in the UK and around the world. It doesn’t need anything knocking into it”.
Indeed, despite multiple attempts to shift the narrative to suit its agenda, the Restore Trust has consistently fallen short of achieving its aims, failing to get a single council member elected in 2021, 2022 and 2023, indicating that organic support for the group remains on the fringes.
Last year, it had attempted to gain five council seats, fielding candidates who each received fewer than 50,000 votes. These included:
- Philip Gibbs, a Conservative donor who’s given over £600,000 to the Party who also unsuccessfully stood in 2021 and 2022. Gibbs has previously criticised the Trust for being “too political”.
- Andrew Gimson, a former Telegraph journalist, biographer of Boris Johnson and writer for Conservative Home.
- Socialite, former Dolce & Gabbana model and friend of Nigel Farage, Lady Violet Manners, whose father is the Duke of Rutland.
- Former barrister and libertarian Lord Jonathan Sumption, a previous advisor to Thatcherite Conservative MP Sir Keith Joseph, the co-founder of the Centre for Policy Studies of which Sumption was also a member.
- and Philip Merricks, who drew the ire of environmentalists in 2015 when allegations surfaced that the charity he chaired, the Hawk and Owl Trust, had ‘got into bed’ with the grouse shooting industry.
In 2022, it emerged that the group had ties to the collective of right-wing, pro-Brexit, free-market and culture-warring think tanks operating out of Tufton St, claims which it had originally denied vigorously, calling the allegations “skullduggery” and “blatant lies”.
However, concerns about the politicisation of National Trust by Restore were first raised when it was revealed that its leadership team included Neil Record, chair of not one but two entities comprising the Tufton cliche, Net Zero Watch – the campaigning wing of the anti-climate science Global Warming Policy Foundation, and the Institute of Economic Affairs.
At the time, the Restore Trust said that Record’s positions within the groups were “not relevant” to their mission, but Record isn’t the only one among the roster of Restore with ties to the Right Wing Westminster lobby scene. (Neil Record was removed as a director on 11 January)
Recently-departing director and “anti-woke” activist, Zewditu Gebreyohanes, previously held a position at the Policy Exchange leading the “History Matters” project, which catalogued the pulling down of statues and renaming of buildings linked to slavery. She was also appointed as a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum under Boris Johnson. The Restore Trust website also features her in conversation with Peter Whittle, of the similarly Tufton St-based New Culture Forum,
Chair of the Restore Trust Board is Cornelia Van Der Poll, who when interviewed on GB News by Nigel Farage told him that “we feel that the focus [of the National Trust] has strayed, it has to come back to its primary purpose”.
Van Der Poll is also a party to the similarly “anti-woke” ‘History Reclaimed’, which features alumni of Brexit campaign group Briefings for Britain, as well as writers for the Koch-funded Spiked Online, Conservative Home, one-time Brexit Party (now Reform UK) prospective candidates, and fellows of fossil fuel funded free-market think tanks like the Institute of Public Affairs.
While presenting itself as “non-partisan” and made up of “independent scholars”, History Reclaimed regularly published provocative arguments, with themes such as “Why toppling statues is (almost always) wrong”, “The Elgin Marbles and the rot of ‘Decolonisation’”, and “The woke onslaught is a war on the West itself”.
Following their most recent defeat, Companies House filings show that the directorship of the Restore Trust has, however, undergone some notable changes, particularly the departure of Neil Record 11 January 2024.
Zewditu Gebreyohanes also stepped down from her role in November 2023. Speaking at the time, she said that she “was going to step down after the AGM, irrespective of the result”.
Gebreyohanes will apparently now be looking to focus on her role as a senior researcher at the Legatum Institute, the think tank funded by the same investment firm that backs GB News, and which bankrolls the hard right ‘New Conservatives’ faction of the Tory Party.
Meanwhile, the Restore Trust itself continues to push messages deemed misleading on social media, using the National Trust’s name. The group is almost certain to try once again next cycle to install members onto the National Trust council.
In a post from 18 January, Restore Trust tweeted: “If you love unspoilt historic houses, gardens and countryside, you should be a member of the National Trust and use your vote to keep it unspoilt”, with a link not to the National Trust page, but its own membership sign up. The move was sharply criticised again by Celia Richardson, who was quick to point out that this was not official messaging. The post has since been deleted.
A community note attached to the tweet read: “Restore Trust is a private company which is backed by a number of activists with links to right wing organisations. Its funding is opaque and has been widely accused of ‘astroturfing’ (giving the illusion of being a grassroots organisation).”
Restore Trust did not respond to a request for comment for this piece.
Do you have a story that needs highlighting? Get in touch by emailing email@example.com