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The National Trust have been awarded Independent Research Organisation status

Date: 06/06/2019

National Trust awarded Independent Research Organisation status enabling it to explore new conservation techniques and enrich visitor experiences.

The National Trust has been awarded Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status enabling it to collaborate further with researchers across culture, history and the natural environment. (ref 1)

The conservation charity has a long tradition of supporting and engaging with researchers. Recent projects range from protecting the wildlife in our lakes to the history of sleep in Tudor England.

This new IRO status, awarded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) on behalf of UK Research and Innovation, is a step towards the Trust’s ambition to embed research excellence at the heart of all its activities. 

The Trust can now apply directly to the UK Research Councils for funding enabling it to increase its research capability. It joins other research-led organisations with IRO status including the V & A, Historic England and the RSPB.

On-going and recent research projects where the Trust has collaborated with partners include:

  • Innovative approaches to sharing collections: Using mobile phone technology to increase visitor access to the historic book collections in Trust libraries, trialled at Wimpole Hall.  
  • Conserving properties and collections: finding new ways to prevent mould growth on precious interiors and objects.

  • Understanding and protecting the environment: Mapping the state of the Trust’s lakes to ensure they, and their wildlife, continue to be cared for in the face of climate change. 

  • Untold stories and new perspectives: Developing knowledge and sharing of Jewish heritage in country houses including Waddesdon, Upton House and Hughenden Manor.

  • Involving local communities: Working with local archaeologists and volunteers to plan and excavate sites in local villages.  

Lessons from history for living today: Recreating Tudor sleeping habits and their natural sleep aids at Little Moreton Hall and helping people today to improve their sleep. (ref 2)

​​​​Hilary McGrady, Director-General of the National Trust says: “National Trust places need to be rooted in great research. It helps us better understand and look after the places we protect, as well as uncover the hidden stories of the people who shaped them and share these with our visitors.

“The many exceptional properties, collections and land holdings in our care, combined with the expertise of our staff, provide a unique opportunity for new discoveries across culture, history and the natural environment.

“I am delighted that our new IRO status will help us to unlock so much more of this research potential, and strengthen our partnerships with the academic community.”

Professor Andrew Thompson, Executive Chair at the Arts and Humanities Research Council, says: “I’m pleased to be able to welcome the National Trust into the family of Independent Research Organisations. We are proud of the research that we fund at museums, libraries, galleries, archives and heritage organisations across the UK.

“This research ranges from support for the next generation of researchers working in and with our flagship cultural institutions all the way to major collaborative research projects that help to create the exhibitions of the future. The designation now opens up a new chapter in the National Trust’s story.”

The Trust’s Research Strategy sets out priority areas where the charity is keen to develop new partnerships with academics with an interest in high impact research.

Nino Strachey, National Trust’s Head of Research adds: “Our existing partnerships, such as those with the Universities of Oxford and Manchester, have helped us to share diverse histories, improve our conservation work, and build understanding of our properties’ natural environment or cultural heritage significance.

“The PhD studies we have hosted show the range of research interests we have, from heritage science and species management to climate change, audience engagement and social history.

“We can now look forward to working further in partnership with universities and other IROs to meet our ambitions for innovative research.”

To find out more about the National Trust’s Research Strategy and opportunities for partnerships visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/features/research


For more information contact:
Alison Dalby, National Trust Press Office,
Email: Alison.dalby@nationaltrust.org.uk 
Tel: 07824 418351

Ellie Fry, Arts and Humanities Research Council Press Office,
Email: Ellie.Fry@ahrc.ukri.org
Tel: 01793 416 030

Notes to Editors


  1. Independent Research Organisation (IRO) status is awarded to organisations which can demonstrate that they possess an existing in-house capacity to carry out research that materially extends and enhances the national research base and are able to demonstrate an independent capability to undertake and lead research programmes. IROs are eligible to apply directly to the Research Councils through both responsive and directive modes of funding.
  2. More about some of the recent National Trust research projects:
  • Innovative approaches to sharing collections – A trial at Wimpole Hall allowed visitors to browse the rows of historic books, select titles of interest and ‘virtually’ remove them from the shelves, revealing images of the pages within together with interpretative text and audio commentary. The project has been successful in utlilising image recognition technology to identify individual book spines, and in increasing visitor engagement with the library collection.
    Lead: University of the Arts London, AHRC funded, Jan 2018 – Nov 2018. 

  • Conserving properties and collections - This PhD project will have important implications for how we look after the house interiors and collections we care for, and how we deal with the problem of mould in particular. Mould growth is a significant conservation problem. It can be disfiguring and damaging to objects such as books, textiles, furniture, and paintings and requires considerable effort and resource to remove.
    Lead: University College, London, EPSRC Centre for Doctoral Training in Science and Engineering for Arts, Heritage and Archaeology (SEAHA), Sept 2016 – Sept 2020

  • Understanding and protecting the environment - given the threats to the natural environment, we need to take well-informed decisions to protect the species and habitats we look after.  The project developed a map and database of National Trust lakes and compiled information on current health and threats facing them. The project confirmed the Trust is one of the major custodians for UK freshwater wildlife and sites. It explored the value people assign to different freshwaters and produced guidance to improve their management.
    Lead: Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, NERC funded, Nov 2016 - Aug 2017. 

  • Untold stories and new perspectives - such as the Jewish Country House project which reveals Jewish stories in historic houses including Waddesdon, Upton House and Hughenden Manor.  The project examines Jewish collecting culture and philanthropy, and explores the integration of Jews into 19th and 20th century British society, as well as the obstacles they encountered.
    Lead: University of Oxford, AHRC Knowledge Exchange Fellowship,  Oct 2016 - Mar 2018 and AHRC major research project, Oct 2019 - Sept 2023.

  • Involving local communities - working with archaeologists to plan and make excavations in their own local villages.  Through this international project, volunteers gain skills, connections and take ownership of generating knowledge and creating narratives on their own environment and heritage.
    Lead: University of Lincoln, AHRC (JHI) funded, Feb 2019 - Jan 2022.

  • Lessons from history for living today - through the How We Used to Sleep project at Little Moreton Hall which recreated Tudor daily life and sleeping habits.  The project included a garden with plants that aid sleep, a Dream Tent where visitors could write or draw their dreams, and a chance to reflect on modern sleep patterns.
    Lead: University of Manchester, AHRC funded, Feb 2017 - Jan 2018.

See also: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/little-moreton-hall/features/how-we-used-to-sleep

About the National Trust

The National Trust is a conservation charity founded in 1895 by three people who saw the importance of our nation’s heritage and open spaces, and wanted to preserve them for everyone to enjoy.  More than 120 years later, these values are still at the heart of everything the charity does.

Entirely independent of Government, the National Trust looks after more than 250,000 hectares of countryside, 780 miles of coastline and hundreds of special places across England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

More than 26 million people visit every year, and together with 5.2 million members and over 61,000 volunteers, they help to support the charity in its work to care for special places for ever, for everyone. www.nationaltrust.org.uk.

About the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC)

The Arts and Humanities Research Council, which is part of UK Research and Innovation, funds world-class, independent researchers in a wide range of subjects: history, archaeology, digital content, philosophy, languages, design, heritage, area studies, the creative and performing arts, and much more. This financial year the AHRC will spend approximately £98 million to fund research and postgraduate training, in collaboration with a number of partners. The quality and range of research supported by this investment of public funds not only provides social and cultural benefits and contributes to the economic success of the UK but also to the culture and welfare of societies around the globe.

The AHRC is part of UK Research and Innovation, a new body that works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities, and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £6 billion, UK Research and Innovation brings together the seven Research Councils, Innovate UK and a new organisation, Research England.

You can find out more information via ahrc.ukri.org or following us on Twitter at @ahrcpress, on Facebook at @artsandhumanitiesresearchcouncil, or Instagram at @ahrcpress

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