Wilton Park

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Wilton Park is an executive agency of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office providing a global forum for strategic discussion. It organises around sixty five a year in the UK and overseas, bringing together leading representatives from the worlds of politics, business, academia, diplomacy, civil society and media. Events focus on issues of international security, prosperity and justice.[1]


Wilton Park events provide a neutral environment where conflicting views can be expressed and debated openly and calmly, allowing acceptable compromise and resolution to be achieved. Participant numbers are limited to ensure that all involved have the chance to share their views, and discussions are non-attributable to encourage frank exchanges and open dialogue.[2]

Events generally take place over two or three days, giving participants time and space to share and assess each other’s ideas in a secluded residential setting; primarily at Wiston House but also in other locations both in the UK and internationally. Alongside roundtable discussions with speakers, events often include small working group sessions and opportunities for informal networking.[3]

Other Wilton Park meetings include the 90 Minute Dialogues which recreate a single Wilton Park session in a central London location; and the Wilton Park Address which provides the opportunity for a presentation from a leading figure involved in global affairs followed by roundtable discussion.[4][5]

Priorities and programme themes[edit]

Wilton Park’s priorities as agreed with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office is to support British strategic foreign policy objectives by providing a neutral, discreet, and professional vehicle for convening opinion formers and policymakers from around the world to address and resolve issues of critical importance to global security and prosperity.[6]

Wilton Park’s work is broadly categorised in to six programme themes:[7]

  • Conflict prevention, resolution and state building
  • Defence and security
  • Global economy
  • Human rights, good governance and faith
  • Multilateral institutions, key countries and regions
  • Sustainable development and the environment

Programme directors[edit]

Events at Wilton Park are led by a Programme Director and supported by the conference team. Programme Directors are selected for their significant international relations backgrounds and work with key UK and international partners to develop, organise and deliver events that tackle emerging policy issues.[8]

Programme Directors are often supported in the development and delivery of individual events by eminent advisers and Visiting Programme Directors.[9]

Funding and governance[edit]

Since becoming an executive agency of the FCO since 1991, Wilton Park has had more autonomy and a more secure financial footing with the opportunity to raise more of its own funding.[10]

Wilton Park raises funds to cover all of its running costs with the FCO providing capital funding, along with selective financial and intellectual support for specific conferences in order to support its policy priorities. Remaining funding is met by participants’ contributions, sponsorship and the hire of Wiston House for other events. Wilton Park’s financial performance as an executive agency is overseen by a Departmental Board chaired by the FCO.[11]

Wilton Park’s current CEO is Richard Burge, and the organisation is overseen by a well-established Advisory Council who advises on conference themes and monitors their quality.[12] An International Council of London based Ambassadors from the OECD states also advises on the annual calendar of events from a global perspective.[13]



Wilton Park takes its name from the Wilton Park Estate in Buckinghamshire, which was used as a Prisoner of War camp and re-education centre during World War II. The house, an eighteenth country house called Wilton Park, also known as the White House, no longer exists.

Wilton Park began on 12 January 1946 as part of an initiative inspired by Sir Winston Churchill, who in 1944 called for Britain to help establish a democracy in Germany after the Second World War. Between January 1946 and June 1948 more than 4,000 Germans attended re-education classes at Wilton Park, where they discussed democratic processes with visiting political figures and intellectuals, including philosopher Bertrand Russell, social reformer Lord William Beveridge, and the first female Member of Parliament, Lady Astor.

The first participants at Wilton Park included some of the most senior German PoWs in Britain and many became leading figures in the rebuilding of post-war Germany. Helmut Schmidt, for example, the former German Chancellor, hailed Wilton Park’s role for post-war Germany, stating that “many ideas became a political reality.” The first visiting speaker on 2 February 1946 was Richard Crossman, later a Labour Minister, who spoke on the theme of ‘The Labour Government’s task in Europe’.


Initially Wilton Park was overseen by a warden, Heinz Koeppler, a German Jewish émigré, who spent his life promoting open and frank discussion. He wanted the atmosphere at the Wilton Park Estate to resemble a residential university college, rather than a prison. One of the first PoW participants, Willi Brundert, felt Heinz Koeppler was crucial in creating such an environment. “He gave us Germans the possibility to become partners. He did not ‘re-educate’ us…, he did not tell us how things ought to be handled in Germany, but he made us think for ourselves; he believed it to be ‘vital’ in the real sense of the word, that Britons and Germans should get to know and to understand the other fellow’s point of view”. He continued: “I cannot describe the encouragement and confidence Heinz Koeppler and his colleagues gave to us, German prisoners of war, by having ministers of the British Crown, leading Opposition speakers, economic leaders… come and talk to us.”

Encouraged by the spirit of free expression, Mr Brundert, who went on to become the Mayor of Frankfurt, ran a satirical puppet show gently mocking Heinz Koeppler and his staff; cartoons in the Wilton Park newspaper used pointed humour.

These successful courses evolved as part of an initiative inspired by Sir Winston Churchill, the wartime Prime Minister, who called for Britain to help establish a successful democracy in Germany after the Second World War. From early 1947, civilians from other European countries – including Switzerland, Finland and France, began to participate in Wilton Park’s courses, where they were educated on the British way of life and democracy. Such courses eventually became open to the public after the last PoW course took place in June 1948.

Wiston House [16][edit]

With the departure of the PoWs, Wilton Park became part of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO). This new status involved a move from the estate in Buckinghamshire to Wiston House in West Sussex. In January 1951, Wilton Park reopened with the 32nd session at its new home. Heinz Koeppler redefined Wilton Park with its arrival at Wiston House, stating its purpose was to give “a course in citizenship, in politics, and in common European problems with the emphasis on realism and impartiality. The purpose of these courses is, in brief, to make a positive contribution to the development of a European public opinion. People talk too much about Europe today without really being conscious of the practical problems.”

These early conferences lasted two weeks, with a week devoted to study trips in London and other parts of Britain. Participants were encouraged to “concentrate on the awkward and vital issues,” and to be “brief, trenchant, and if possible, witty.”

Expansion [17][edit]

In the mid-1950s, the Government decided that Wilton Park should continue to be largely Government funded, but that it should develop and accrue a much wider remit. From 1957, participation grew to include all the member countries of what is now the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

A grant from the Ford Foundation enabled Wilton Park to broaden its range further in 1961, when North American participants began coming in increasing and enthusiastic numbers.

Following Britain’s entry into what is now the European Union in 1973, Prime Minister Edward Heath, a strong supporter of Wilton Park, agreed with French President Georges Pompidou that issues on European enlargement should be addressed at a European Discussion Centre (EDC) based at Wilton Park.

In the 1980s Wilton Park took its first Soviet participation. At the first conference, an interpreter from the Soviet Embassy in London burst out of the interpreting booth to join in the debate. In an event in October 1988, former Director Geoffrey Denton recalled a distinguished Romanian speaker dramatically announcing the imminent collapse of the Communist system. When asked if he meant in Romania he replied, “No, everywhere.” His prediction came true one year later with the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989.

During the transition to black majority rule in South Africa in the 1980s, Wilton Park became a venue for representatives of the black community and the ruling National Party to meet behind closed doors.

Wilton Park has also been hosting events on the Western Balkans since the late 1990s. A conference in September 1999 on the Western Balkans after Milosevic, held less than three months after the end of NATO’s air campaign, was attended by many of those then in opposition, but later elected to power in Belgrade and elsewhere in South East Europe.

While strengthening the European programme, Wilton Park also moved into new global arenas with issues relating to Japan, China, North East Asia, the Middle East, South Asia, Africa, Latin America all becoming integral parts of the annual programme of conference.

Wilton Park today [18][edit]

Today Wilton Park is remains a centre for discussion of key international policy challenges. There have been more than a thousand events since Wilton Park began and in 2006, Wilton Park celebrated its Diamond Jubilee.

The complete history of the organisation was written by historian Richard Mayne in his book ‘In Victory, Magnanimity, In Peace, Goodwill: A history of Wilton Park’. Mayne summarised Wilton Park’s role in history:

“Wilton Park was a house and is an institution; but its essence was always more. Its aim was and is to unite people: to bring together those who disagree, often violently, and by patient, outspoken discussion of their conflicting views and assumptions, to reconcile rivals and enemies in recognition of their common humanity, their shared problems and their joint hopes of peace. In today’s strife torn world, no task could be more urgent. For more than fifty years, Wilton Park has shown what can be done with care, tact, frankness and delicate hard work.”[19]



Following each Wilton Park event, an rapporteur will produce a final discussion report that is circulated to participants and then published online. All reports are written under Wilton Park Protocol and are therefore non-attributable. A full catalogue of reports from past conferences is available on the Wilton Park website.[20]


During many conferences, Wilton Park takes the opportunity to talk with some of the key opinion formers participating about the issues at hand. Issues discussed have covered a diverse range of issues including ebola, nuclear deterrence, internet freedom, women in peacemaking, synthetic biology and many more.[21] All podcasts are published on Mixcloud.

As with all of Wilton Park discussions, each individual contributing to the podcasts will be expressing their own opinions and not those of any organisation to which they may be affiliated.

Other media[edit]

Wilton Park regularly features short articles on its website, and also publishes upcoming conferences and developing ideas in its newsletter.[22][23] Furthermore there is a weekly blog written by Programme Development Associates and interns.[24]

See also[edit]

Wiston House

Foreign and Commonwealth Office


  1. ^ "About us". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "About us". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  3. ^ "About us". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  4. ^ "90 Minute Dialogues". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  5. ^ "Wilton Park Address". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  6. ^ "Wilton Park priorities" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  7. ^ "Programme Themes". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  8. ^ "Programme Directors". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "Visiting Programme Directors". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  10. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  11. ^ "Wilton Park Board". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  12. ^ "Advisory Council". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  13. ^ "WPIC". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  14. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  15. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  16. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  17. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "History of Wilton Park" (PDF). Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  19. ^ Mayne, Richard (2003). In Victory, Magnanimity, In Peace, Goodwill: A History of Wilton Park (1 ed.). London: Whitehall History Publishing in association with Frank Cass Publishers. p. Preface. ISBN 0-7146-5433-7. 
  20. ^ "Reports". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  21. ^ "Podcasts". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  22. ^ "News". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  23. ^ "Newletter". Wilton Park. Wilton Park. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 
  24. ^ "Global Policy Future". Global Policy Future, Wilton Park. Word Press. Retrieved 25 September 2015. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 50°53′59″N 0°21′32″W / 50.89972°N 0.35889°W / 50.89972; -0.35889