University of Oxford National Trust Partnership

Research partnership between University of Oxford & National Trust, 2018-2021.

Motivation for collaboration

The National Trust Partnership is an award-winning collaboration established to create new opportunities for interdisciplinary research, knowledge exchange, public engagement with research and training at both institutions and beyond. Activities take place through a range of engagements including research placements and consultancy, conferences, workshops, public events, staff training, PhD projects and student internships.

How the collaboration was formed

The collaboration grew out of a number of earlier projects including the Thames Valley Country House Partnership (TVCHP) established by Dr Oliver Cox in 2013, and the Trusted Source Knowledge Transfer Partnership (KTP) led by Alice Purkiss from 2016-18. Trusted Source piloted a means to bring academic research into the National Trust, and resulted in the creation of new public-facing web content and training opportunities for students and staff at both institutions. Engaging over 60 researchers at ten universities, Trusted Source was featured as a case study in a UK Government Select Committee and Mendoza Review (DCMS, 2017), and was graded ‘A: Outstanding’ by InnovateUK. The project continues as part of partnership (link below).

Benefits derived from collaboration

The partnership is founded upon mutual benefit and two-way knowledge exchange: it facilitates research into the Trust’s rich portfolio of places and collections, which in turn is embedded into public-facing programming and volunteer training to bring research-led interpretation to the NT’s audiences. Meanwhile, access to the National Trust’s buildings, collections and landscapes is opened-up to researchers alongside opportunities to learn from staff, engage with volunteers and visitors, and to develop further research projects. At Oxford, the Partnership has supported the creation of the Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC Doctoral Training Partnership within which the NT is one of three strategic Cultural Partners, and the development of the Oxford University Heritage Network. It has demonstrated that innovation is not reserved to science and engineering, and that closer internal, interdisciplinary working can be supported through collaboration with external partners.

Key Metrics
  • 800+ people engaged with partnership activities and events to date
  • 25 academic institutions, 28 heritage, cultural and conservation institutions, and 19 industry consultants and independent practitioners engaged
  • 70 NT staff trained through 4 new staff Research Skills training sessions
  • 73 students have undertaken week-long internships contributing 2,555 hours of new research
  • All 7 National Trust regions engaged
  • 4 Knowledge Exchange Fellowships undertaken by Oxford researchers
  • 4 collaborative PhD projects funded via the AHRC
  • 2 awards won, including Knowledge Exchange Partnership of the Year (Praxis Auril, 2019)
Legacy of collaboration

Following the initial KTP investment by InnovateUK and the National Trust, the collaboration has leveraged over £1.7 million to date, has created 73 student placement opportunities, and has generated 1.8 FTE at Oxford, with the new partnership fully funded by the National Trust for an initial three-year period. Now two years in, the collaboration continues to develop and test new methods for successful, sustained and mutually-beneficial collaboration between academia and the heritage sector which is being shared with other heritage organisations and HEIs.

Lessons learned

Mutual benefit is required for successful partnership activity, even if the benefits are different for each partner The importance of flexibility in partnership working and having established methods for collaboration that can be adopted for new projects/different subject areas That the benefits of collaboration can be both immediate and take a number of years to appear, therefore long-term thinking and investment in sustained partnership management is important That collaborations can take place across organisations at different levels and in different subject areas, and can have a wide range of outputs – from public facing to internal institutional change.

Further information

Partnership website

Trusted Source

NCUB State of the Relationship Report (pg. 47).

Praxis Auril KE Partnership of the Year award.

National Trust visitors looking at the wooden drawers in the Muniment or Evidence Room at Hardwick Hall, Derbyshire.
Copyright: National Trust Images/John Millar