I both love and hate the National Trust. It is the most amazingly democratic ideal that these important houses and lands should belong to the people, but it actually feels quite unwieldy as an institution. Having spent the last three years organising visits for a group of enthusiasts, i have had a lot to do with National Trust and privately owned properties, and on the whole, the privately owned houses and gardens are more flexible, and more welcoming. (There are one or two notable exceptions and i would include NT Coughton Court among those.)
The National Trust seems now to have a branded ‘look’ in most properties which completely destroys any individual character to a house. You are also moved round a property in a way that doesnt allow any idea of how the house would have worked.
Finally, and closest to my heart as a retailer, the shops are all pretty much the same, no matter where you are, other than local honey perhaps. Every property has unique selling points – surely prints, pictures, embroidery packs etc could be made up, unique to artefacts in that house? In lots of cases, local people would probably invent them and offer them sale or return just for the opportunity. Make use of local talent – open it out as a competition perhaps. It feels as if all NT shop buying is done centrally in bulk – is this true? What a wasted opportunity!