A ground-breaking collaboration between the University of Leicester and the National Trust, ‘Colonial Countryside’ is a child-led history and writing project supported by a team of historians. The first ever study of Trust houses’ colonial connections revealed that over a third had direct links to the British Empire.
The Colonial Countryside report became an intense focus of media scrutiny and public debate during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, when the heritage sector came under pressure to address its slavery links.
Before Colonial Countryside, the Trust had run a number of initiatives to make these links clear to visitors, notably during the 2007 bicentenary of the abolition of the slave trade. However, such exhibitions were temporary and it was hard to produce a lasting impact. Knowledge of these colonial links remained little-known to heritage professionals and audiences alike.
Colonial Countryside’s ambitious aim was to transform the heritage sector’s approach to its colonial links, through the National Trust’s leadership. Arts Council England and Heritage Lottery Fund paid for 100 BAME pupils to learn about colonial history through the lens of local heritage. These children participated in writing and public speaking workshops throughout the country. They communicated this history in speeches at a children’s conference (at the University of Leicester) and at national conferences (including the British Museum’s annual conference in 2019). The pupils produced popular Twitter information videos, rewrote guidebooks, commissioned an artist, wrote visitor pamphlets and initiated an international collaboration between the Trust and an Indian heritage partner, now under negotiation. The children co-produced exhibitions at four Trust properties: Penrhyn Castle, Sutton House, Kedleston Hall and Basildon Park.