Gebreyohanes to the rescue!

Restore Trust’s Zewditu Gebreyonhanes discusses the National Trust’s policies with Peter Whittle for New Culture Forum. (Restore Trust)

In Britain, a new organization has arisen to push back against the backsliding of an old organization. Restore Trust believes that the National Trust’s mission of preserving the nation’s most treasured historic buildings has been downgraded in favor of allegedly more pressing issues under the umbrella of “woke.”

The Sunday Times (U.K.) yesterday ran a profile of Zewditu Gebreyohanes, the Ethiopian Brit who since this May has headed Restore Trust. She is 23, a trust member in good standing, a trustee of the Victoria & Albert Museum, and a director of the Roger Scruton Legacy Foundation.

Although she is reluctant to tag herself as “anti-woke,” the trust, which manages more than 300 historic sites and almost 800 miles of coastline, has allowed major sites to degrade while it pursues the hell out of all historical properties that have anything to do with colonialism and slavery. It has published a report blacklisting 93 historic buildings, including Chartwell, the home of Sir Winston Churchill. It appears to have embraced rules that make it difficult for members to oppose the current direction of trust policies. And it also has forced volunteers to undergo compulsory woke sessions.

The Times article, by Liam Kelly, states that “[m]andatory diversity training for volunteers to learn about ‘unconscious bias’ has also been ‘hugely, hugely unpopular,’ said Gebreyohanes.” She adds:

What they’re doing is not what the National Trust was set up to do and the problems happening as a result of management decisions go far beyond what is termed ‘woke’ or ‘anti-woke’. The National Trust is a valuable institution that needs saving.

Few would disgree. And nobody could blame Gebreyohanes for suggesting, defensively, that a diversity of trends may be responsible for the trust’s woes, such as they may be. However, the Times is explicit in its opening paragraph:

[S]he leads an “anti-woke” pressure group waging an insurgency against the National Trust, which she believes spends too much time fretting about slavery and unconscious bias and not enough maintaining Britain’s treasures.

Hear! Hear! What the trust needs is what the psychiatrists call an intervention.

It looks as if Restore Trust under Gebreyohanes’s leadership intends to impose at least one such step to right Britain’s ship of conservation. At the trust’s annual meeting next month, she expects to propose a motion to abolish “quick voting,” a recent change putting more power – Gebreyohanes would say excessive power – in the hands of trust managers to protect its policies from dissident objections:

Already there are claims of dirty tricks. For the first time, the trust has created a “quick voting” option, giving members who vote online the chance to press one button and vote in accordance with what the trust’s nominations committee recommends. Gebreyohanes said it was “dodgy” and “shows their desperation.”

Good luck with that!

Architects and preservationists have wandered away from their missions not just in Britain but in the U.S. Perhaps the founding of Restore Trust last August and Gebreyohanes appointment to lead it argue that the British are suffering under an even harsher woke lash than is America – after all, things have gotten bad enough for an organization to arise to mount a resistance.

What about the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the chief U.S. body in that field? What about the American Institute of Architects? What about the Providence Preservation Society, which has gone so far against its mission as to adopt plans to build a modernist addition on the lovely historic building from which it directs its good works? Are they all woke, too?

Some commenters have wondered why a blog on architecture and preservation bothers to raise questions about matters of woke concern. Well, the answer, I’m afraid, is all around us. America has never had the equivalent of Prince Charles in his valiant opposition to modern architecture. Now it remains to be seen how, and if, King Charles will take up the gauntlet. Here’s hoping that Zewditu Gebreyohanes and Restore Trust will inspire not only the new king but the foundation of similar organizations on this side of the pond.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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10 Responses to Gebreyohanes to the rescue!

  1. I am not surprised that the name of the “saviour” is Zewditu Gebreyonhanes. Conservative whites has been silenced so effectivly that you need “victim” points to effectivly combat woke. In a sence, it is immigrants or decendants of immigrants that are saving the west since to few westerners dare to speak out be it local islamism, illegal immigration, crime or architecture!


    • I agree with your analysis, Michael. Victim points, indeed! When are conservatives, and indeed whites generally, going to realize that they are victims, too, in British, American and other Westernized societies? When are they going to recognize that whatever their flaws, those societies have been largely open to and supportive of segments that now consider themselves victims, more so than other societies, especially those they emigrated from (or even shanghaied from). The progress made by blacks in America since the 1950s is not indicative of a systematically racist society. Why would people keep coming here if that were true? I don’t believe that architecture should be a political issue, but leftist and modernist behavior toward traditional preferences is forcing the issue. So sad.


      • Michael Diamant says:

        The West is the least racist and most tolerant place on planet Earth and this is thanks to straight white men and Western culture. Leftist and modernist are forcing it all the time and it is only thanks to my personal victim points that I can debate architecture. You see, my mother lost 99.99% of all relatives in the Holocaust and she herself was born in a refugee camp in Soviet Uzbekistan. By leftist logic I can´t do wrong then.


  2. Milton Grenfell says:

    The woke stuff spreading like “kudzu”. As you know doubt know, James Madison’s Montpelier has been converted to a master class on slavery, sidelining Madison’s essential contribution to the Bill of Rights and the nation’s founding in general. Plantations were pretty much self supporting institutions, and as such had on them everyone from butcher and baker to candlestick maker, some free, some not. All of interest, but hardly what makes Montpelier singularly important.




    • Yes, Milton, I am acquainted with what has happened at Madison’s Montpelier. Quite depressing, and indicative of what is happening everywhere in this country – to the dismay, I am sure, of the vast majority of its voters, many of whom may be too cowed to express their own views this November.


  3. John the First says:

    Woke is a product of liberalism (fake liberalism, contrary to true classical liberalism), which again is a product of democratic anarchism (as Plato described elaborately, too much freedom in essence). The architectural scene cannot expect to remain outside of the liberal tyranny when it votes liberal, and there is hardly anything else to vote these days, except libertarian, which consists of a mess of views, combined with some orphaned classical liberalism. Then it seems that all parties must feel the consequence of their own contribution to tyrannical statist-liberal-socialist big government democracies, either by voting for it, or the lack of attempts to counter it. To experience how far it can escalate, how mad it can get, should be a lesson for the future for many people.


    • I have a feeling I agree with you, John, in spite of your dislike of democracy. We do not really live in a democracy in America today, which fact might have inspired the bulk of your comment. I think there are more apposite alternatives to voting libertarian or “liberal” and I’m sure you do, too. Maybe you are self-censoring, or you don’t really understand the nature of the regime that controls most institutions in America today, including its government.


  4. Arthur Mark says:

    King Charles 111 can be depended upon to be critical of modern architecture, but he will be
    reluctant to speak frankly about it . He will encourage new buildings that echo traditional values .
    Like his mother , he will avoid controversy.


    • I am not surprised that the name of the “saviour” is Zewditu Gebreyonhanes. Conservative whites has been silenced so effectivly that you need “victim” points to effectivly combat woke. In a sence, it is immigrants or decendants of immigrants that are saving the west since to few westerners dare to speak out be it local islamism, illegal immigration, crime or architecture!


    • Arthur, support for classical architecture, and a return of its values to the institutions of design and development in Britain, should not be controversial – except for the fact that those institutions have been for at least half a century against opening the door a crack for classical architecture, which remains the preferred building type for most people. I hope the new king will recognize that and act upon it and perhaps other issues as he did when he was prince – or even more so. As king, does he have a right to sit by as the nation is in headlong precipitous decline? Maybe he does, but it might be rational to suggest that he has a duty otherwise, more so than his average subject.


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