On holiday in Suffolk we visited Sutton Hoo, of ancient burial mounds fame. It is a National Trust property.
Now, I like the National Trust. I think they do sterling work in maintaining and preserving the land and buildings that make Britain's history the amazing thing that it is. Over the years, Andy and I have visited many Trust properties. I have purchased items from their gift shops and probably too many cakes and tea from their lovely tea rooms. Indeed, for the past three years we have gone to Sissinghurst for my birthday lunch because it is a nice place for such a thing.
Until May we were Trust members. But I did not renew the membership partly because we had no plans to visit any parts of the country where we hadn't already 'done' NT properties to death and partly because we had failed to receive the quarterly NT magazine which is part of the membership deal and that kind of lax service makes me a tad huffy. I know it shouldn't but it does. That's just me. Hey-ho.
So off we went to Sutton Hoo. We had visited before, but my Mum hadn't, so we thought it might be a good place to take her as she likes a spot of archaeology and would probably jump into an excavation trench with Tony Robinson on Time Team without the prompt of a second invitation, trowel at the ready.
Now, when you visit NT properties you are greeted by a notice board that details the entry charges. And gone are the days when there was one set only - Adult, Child and Concession. One set of charges and you knew where you were with the readies.
But now you get TWO sets of admission charges - the Standard charge and the Gift Aid Donation charge which is higher by around a fine English pound per person. And from previous experience I have discovered that you will automatically be charged the higher rate of admission unless you specifically ask for the standard rate tickets presumably on the assumption by the staff that a) you are willing to make an extra donation and b) you can afford to make the extra donation and therefore the niceties in actually asking which entry fee you wish to pay can be by-passed, thank you very much.
Hard sell is very much the name of the National Trust game these days it seems. Or at least it was at Sutton Hoo. The woman at the counter looked stunned when I asked for two standard adult admissions. (My mum is a member and had already sailed though Check Point Charlie and was browsing the gift shop.)
'Have you considered joining the National Trust?' the woman asked, slapping a RED admission sticker upon my person, because if you are not a member and pay the standard rate you get a red sticker thus defining you as a charity leper. If you ARE a member and/or pay the higher rate admission you get a green sticker. I could call this sticker discrimination 'stickerest' but I am not sure the word exists as such.
'We used to be members...' I began in defence, though Lord knows why I should have to justify the spending of MY money to anyone.
'Because you could join again today,' she persisted, 'and get the cost of your entry back.'
Well, how does that work? I hand over £90 odd quid for a joint membership and get £15 back on what I spent on the tickets which still leaves me £75 out of pocket. Nope, the maths didn't add up. I smiled and declined.
'You could pay by Direct Debit and spread the cost over 12 months,' the woman continued, somewhat conspiratorially I thought.
Ah, but she was failing to see, this woman trained in aggressive marketing techniques, that it wasn't that we couldn't AFFORD to be members, it was that we didn't WANT to be members.
'Still no thank you,' I said. And off we went to enjoy the Sutton Hoo experience.
Which included a visit to the Exhibition Of Stuff We Dug Up And A Recreation Of The Bloke Buried In Ye Olde Shippe. Whereupon I was confronted by two more volunteers who, on seeing my RED sticker said in very loud voices, 'Oooh, there's a naughty person who isn't a member!' and then they TUTTED at me! They actually TUTTED!!!
Well! I am afraid that the National Trust is fast becoming a charity I shall be shunning in the future if they continue to target us red stickered types in such a patronising way. They need to remember that I still paid £15 for two tickets AND spent money in their cafe on three lunches AND bought a wool blanket from their shop. I wondered, as we finished our visit, if other people felt the same about their pressure selling techniques. And yes, I know they are a charity and funds are tight - good grief, Andy works for the PDSA and is paid a pittance compared to what he could earn in the private sector - but there are ways of getting the public to part with their money and I am afraid the new NT way isn't the right way to do it.