Six months have passed since our last ‘Open Letter’ update and we are pleased to report good progress in the mission of the Trust and its appointed turnaround team.

Our earlier financial troubles are well documented and there is little to be gained from raking over old ground. We are thankfully in a position to move forward. However, by way of contrast, less than a year ago we were within a few weeks of not meeting payroll; now, not only has a fresh management approach saved more than 200 local jobs, it has also created a number of new ones.

Achieving financial stability, while beginning to position the estate and its activities for a sustainable future, has undeniably been a slog. Staff right across DHT have worked extremely hard just to get us straight for the short term. Our early success has been in significantly reducing losses and mapping the route to breakeven, so that we are able to reinvest from surpluses we have generated ourselves, not solely from external sources.

We are blessed with many tools at our disposal to restore and enhance the reputation of the Dartington Estate as a destination for visitors to pursue a huge range of interests: heritage, natural beauty, hospitality, entertainment, culture, retail, courses, sustainability, business tenancies – it’s all here now and there’ll be more of everything. The team is busy developing new concepts and initiatives, in many cases partnering with best-in-class specialist operators to accelerate ideas and host or curate compelling new offerings.

The spring and summer months have already presented our members and visitors with fresh events and exciting new ways of doing things. The Wonderglow light trail during the Easter holidays was very well received and encouraged our partnership strategy for key events. This includes comedy at The Barn and arrangements with a number of music promoters. The Green Table cafe will be relaunched in July with a prominent local hospitality entrepreneur, while the White Hart has also been transformed by our new multi-award winning and locally peerless chef, Charlotte Vincent.  Festivals continue with the return of Byline this month and our own Summer School, this year with a shorter, choral focus and led, as usual, by a world-class group of tutors. There has never been any intention to lose the magic of Dartington’s summer of music and unique contact with the many people who loved it. Overall, there is far too much to list here, but expect several announcements in the near future.

Of course, our continued progress depends to a large extent on people. We need them to visit, enjoy, stay and spend. We need to hire the best people to deliver the experience that makes visitors return. We need to engage with people locally to earn and maintain support for what we do. Strong relationships clearly matter and those are enriched by good communication. We are pleased to have invested very considerable time and effort in our stakeholder relationships, not least with local councillors and the business community. These ties have been invaluable in achieving our goals so far and we are hugely grateful for the very positive inbound interest we receive every day through these and other channels.

Having said there is little to learn from looking back to the dark days of last year, when one former trustee suggested they might buy Dartington Estate for £1 in the event that we fell into administration, hindsight combined with our greater confidence now may still be instructive: now we’ve eliminated the threat of going bust and gained momentum in getting the place into better shape, there’s no way we’ll sell for £1 to a former trustee or anyone else.

Lord Triesman & Robert Fedder 
Dartington Trust
June 2024

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