The London Project (endorsed by the National Trust) works to reinterpret ‘place’ through the lens of London’s contemporary cultural scene and works to engage a younger, multi-cultural, critical and demanding public. The project seeks to find new ways for Londoners to develop their relationship with the capital’s special places, and strives to support the National Trust in gaining relevance in London where, compared to other areas across the UK, it currently has minimal impact.
In September the National Trust controversially opened up the Big Brother House as a temporary National Trust Property. 500+ ticket holders took part in a volunteer-led tour of the house/studio, learnt about its sociological and historical importance, and were even summoned to the diary room to talk to the voice of Big Brother. There was also the ‘Best Big Brother Housemate Ever’ competition which at first, may have been interpreted as a rather trivial part of the event. Nevertheless, the stakes of the competition were high and one lucky ex-housemate would win National Trust membership for a whole year— something they were all desperate to get their hands on.
A competition’s a competition and there had to be a winner: in third place came the very lovely two-time champ; regular “Favourite Housemate” poll topper and now ex-Big Brother main show presenter- Brian Dowling. In second place, the late and great reality TV legend who shot to fame during Big Brother 3 and then to global infamy upon her 2007 Celebrity Big Brother return; Jade Goody. And the winner…drum roll please…the unforgettable and outright hilarious, pint-sized tantrum-throwing 2006 Housemate; Nikki Grahame. Right now, you may well be thinking, and quite ironically too, “who is she!?”, and you may also be wondering why on earth this competition is worth talking about at all?
As I announced the results to diehard Big Brother enthusiasts who’d been Tweeting in daily reminders about the competition, I began to realize that over the last month our social media platforms had not only grown a great deal, but more significantly, the type of content being posted had also changed. Among the comments about the competition results, there were posts from thrilled Big Brother fans:
Comic souvenir photographs taken by our guests…
And some very important discussions about our interpretation of this much condemned studio-cum-TV house-cum-human zoo:
I had to wonder—would the National Trust have attracted such vibrant and diverse engagement if this event had commanded less of a social media presence? And will the National Trust’s new found London ‘fans’ stay interested in unconventional National Trust activities? When asked in our post event online survey whether or not participants would be likely to attend future events at National Trust properties, 84% of attendees either agreed or strongly agreed that they would and some even aired their new found interest in the National Trust on twitter itself:
It’s clear that events like this not only offer something fresh to Londoners and the heritage world, but they inspire diverse and unexpected audiences to the National Trust’s work, which in turn, makes us much more socially inclusive and approachable than generally perceived.
For our critics, the opening of Big Brother House and the London Project’s work more generally, is far removed from the National Trust’s vision to ‘protect historic places and green spaces…opening them up forever, for everyone.’ But if we really are concerned with opening historic places for ‘everyone,’ what better place was there to start than the house that’s described by TV critics as ‘the most important house in Britain’ and one that reflects ‘human kind in all its glorious diversity,’ as described by the National Trust’s London Director Ivo Dawnay.
It was great to see the London Project’s relatively new social media platforms not only grow, but become highly engaging. Whilst I still can’t say I’m a fan of Endemol’s BAFTA-award winning Big Brother franchise, I can say that as an aspiring museum professional, I’ve been incredibly inspired by this interpretation of our modern and national heritage. The challenge now? To continue delivering high calibre events that surprise, engage and spark debate!
Roshan Gibson is a trainee on Cultural Co-operation’s Strengthening Our Common Life (SOCL) programme based at the National Trust, London. SOCL is funded through the nationwide Skills for the Future initiative launched by the Heritage Lottery Fund. All views expressed in this post belong to Roshan