Guest blog: How National Trust embraces inclusion

Guest blogger:

Heather Smith is Equality Specialist at National Trust for England, Wales and Northern Ireland and also is the UK Government Disability and Access Ambassador for Countryside and Heritage

Heather also spoke on our free webinar on Tuesday 28 September: How to create an inclusive workplace, with National Trust, Vercida and AbilityNet.

Heather Smith, smiling

Working for the National Trust comes in various shapes and sizes, from office-based work, conservation roles, care and management of accommodation, visitor welcome, working with landscape and livestock, and so much more. That variety can come through paid employment or volunteering.

This multitude of opportunity to be part of the National Trust is one of the main attractions of the organisation but only if the tools and support are in place to enable people to have a great experience. This is particularly important for disabled people. 

Listening to the opinions and perspectives of their workforce (a term used here to cover both staff and volunteers) should be at the forefront of any organisation’s decision-making to create any change required to provide those tools and support, and to make sure the change is sustainable. 

Everyone Welcome inclusion initiative

Just before the pandemic, at National Trust we began our ‘Everyone Welcome’ commitment to long-term organisation-wide change to become more inclusive and welcoming for all.

This covers how we work, our culture, values, and behaviours, making our places more accessible and welcoming, and becoming more relevant and appealing to more people. Welcome and relevance are particularly important for us to attract and retain disabled people. 

During the pandemic, with 80% of our staff on furlough and no volunteers at our properties, many people had to cover new and different responsibilities. Even closed properties need caring for and all our business systems needed to remain operable.

People who remained in work were often away from their usual environment and also had challenges to face as we, like many other organisations, pivoted towards technology as our work delivery and ‘keeping in touch’ solution. The accessibility of this technology was not always easy and finding an appropriate work area away from a usual base was not always straightforward. 

As we move through the pandemic period, many of us are coming back to a very different way of undertaking our work, still partly working from home, for example, or not returning to the same work base as we were before. Personal circumstances might have changed too, leading to challenges regarding how we feel about returning to our usual working pattern, the support we might need, and around mental health.

National Trust logo with oak leaf emblem

This has been a time of reflection for many and disabled people have told us clearly about the challenges they have had during this time and before. Our ‘Everyone Welcome’ commitment remains, but we are having to think of different ways to deliver it, given the changes in staff levels, financial situation, and opportunities for change in the immediate term. The key thing that remains is listening, and, crucially, acting on what is said. 

WorkAbility disability network

We continued with plans to set up a disability network, ‘WorkAbility’. We launched this in June 2020 because we were hearing that disabled people wanted to come together to take this time to challenge the organisation to ’recover’ better, to explain how difficult things had been before the pandemic and how challenging things are now.

As a consequence, we already have a much more effective reasonable adjustments process, a developing programme of training, and, crucially, direct dialogue with our Executive Team.

The importance of conversation, transparency, and learning about how we need to change from our own people has been transformational for us in terms of the changes made in the last year and the list of things we still have to do! 

Do you need help to ensure disabled people thrive in the workplace? AbilityNet can support you in building a workplace that is inclusive by design and uses technology to enable all employees to perform at their best.

Get advice from AbilityNet

Further resources

AbilityNet provides a range of free services to help disabled people and older people. If you can afford it, please donate to help us support older and disabled people through technology