Our LGBTQ+ Employee Network Group: an open, inclusive and supportive community

Published : Fri 19th Aug

Jerzy Kierkuc-Bielinski, a Cultural Heritage Curator here at the National Trust since 2017, was recently appointed Co-Chair of the Trust’s LGBTQ+ Network. Here, Jerzy explains how his work with the LGBTQ+ Network is helping the Trust to become a more inclusive employer and provides a supportive community for the Trust’s LGBTQ+ colleagues and allies.

I’ve always been keen to support and celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and feel I can speak my mind in a diplomatic way. After working alongside Dawn Hoskins as the network’s Curational Co-Lead, I was asked to then apply for the recently vacated Co-Chair position.

Everything still feels quite fresh, but it’s been a pleasure so far, and I can’t wait to help the network flourish over the coming months and years.

Introducing the LGBTQ+ Network

The Trust is a huge organisation, with a workforce stemming from all sorts of backgrounds. As a result, we’re keen to provide our volunteers and colleagues with a space and platform where they can feel safe and be themselves.

Platforms such as the Race Equality and Workability networks, along with the LGBTQ+ Network, play an important role in doing just that – at all levels of the National Trust.

As well as providing LGBTQ+ colleagues with a space to share their thoughts, experiences or concerns, our LGBTQ+ Network encourages allies to promote inclusivity, and informs and influences the Trust’s approach towards its LGBTQ+ colleagues.

We’re not a perfect organisation – the path to a fully inclusive and welcoming workplace is a continuous journey. But the Employee Network Groups have seen the Trust make huge improvements since I joined five years ago!

That’s why I work closely with colleagues in the Inclusion Council, where I, along with chairs of the Race Equity and Workability networks, meet with representatives from the Trust’s Executive Team.

Through these initiatives, my Inclusion Council colleagues and I have meaningful and strategic input into the Trust’s direction, ensuring everyone’s voices are heard.

How the LGBTQ+ Network makes a difference

Our strategy here at the National Trust is to be for everyone, for ever. This sentiment is also an important ambition of mine and is very much at the centre of everything we do within the LGBTQ+ Network.

Part of that includes improving visibility and providing Trust colleagues with a deeper understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.

We’re also always engaging with both the Race Equity and Workability networks by exploring how we can best serve all members, colleagues and volunteers within the Trust, and reflect their stories and experiences to create a better workplace for all.

In 2017, the Trust hosted a number of exhibitions exploring how many of our properties were homes to – and shaped by – people who, like myself and many of our members, challenged conventional ideas about gender and sexuality.

I’m immensely proud of those stories and that heritage. They’re brilliant examples of how the LGBTQ+ community truly belongs here, and always has done.

But much like the properties these stories are connected to, without our conservation efforts, there’s a danger they could be erased over time.

Events such as our recent LGBTQ+ discussion forum – in which we invite speakers to discuss the LGBTQ+ community’s presence on the Trust’s properties and landscapes – help preserve these stories, narratives and the LGBTQ+ community’s heritage for future generations.

Looking forward to the future

The way in which networks such as ours engage with their members has changed in recent years.

Lockdowns and restrictions forced us to adapt our approach considerably as the large, in-person events we previously organised and hosted were suddenly off-limits!

Instead, we created a number of virtual events throughout 2020 and 2021. And while “meeting” and communicating with one another through screens posed its own challenges, taking events online meant we could connect with more people than ever before.

It was great to create such a positive outcome from an incredibly challenging situation!

With the lifting of restrictions, we’re combining the two approaches in 2022: hosting virtual meetups and re-engaging our members with in-person events. That way, we can engage as many members as possible in a way that works for them.

A supportive community, where everyone is welcome

We’re a large organisation, with lots of our members based in rural areas. We’re always mindful that it’s our responsibility to try and bring all our members together, and make sure they feel connected to the wider community both within, and outside of, the Trust.

Our network is a safe space, where members are always on-hand to listen to anything anyone may be struggling with – be it a work-related issue or something more personal – and are ready to listen and support in any way they can.

We’re also supported by the Trust itself. They’re always keen to lend a helping hand in organising events, exhibitions and more.

On a more personal level, my Line Manager has always ensured I have the flexibility I need to manage both my role within the Trust, and my responsibilities as Co-Chair.

What it means to be part of the National Trust

I feel as though I learn something new every day; either from my colleagues, or from the properties I’m working within. It’s a thoroughly unique organisation, in that sense. That’s why it’s such an exciting place to work.

Ultimately, our ambition is to be an organisation that is for everyone, for ever.

And though there remains a lot of work to be done, initiatives such as the Inclusion Council and the Employee Network Groups have demonstrated that enabling under-represented groups to have a meaningful input on the organisation’s direction can be a huge force for positive, lasting change.

It’s inspiring to be part of the team that’s improving the Trust every day and is enabling it to be a more inclusive, welcoming employer. I look forward to seeing what the future holds; both in 2022, and beyond.