I first came across REMPART at the Oslo Conference for Voluntary Organisations in the Field of Cultural Heritage in September 2000. Sabine Guilbert, who was International Relations Manager at the time, presented an organisation which brought together some 150 ngos to discuss issues and exchange experiences, and which promoted cultural awareness and action through voluntary workcamps. I remember being very impressed. I wrote in my notes “REMPART: Teaches young people to become citizens (community life); different background and races; training to learn new technologies; close connection with local community; social and professional integration […] – potential for collaboration?”
Little did I know we would still be collaborating 16 years later!
Back then, I was running ENNHO (the European Network of National Heritage Organisations) as part of my day job at the National Trust (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) so was on the look-out for fresh ideas, inspirational stories and potential partners.
Interestingly, what REMPART was doing (and still does) was radical in that it was a return to the basic principles of our movement. With its firm grounding in social welfare, community and practical conservation skills, REMPART feels like an organisation Octavia Hill and the founders of the National Trust would have understood and felt comfortable with. And from an INTO perspective, the way REMPART achieves worthwhile and – relatively – low cost conservation work in often ‘overlooked’ locations is a great lesson to some of our member organisations.
REMPART became a part of the ENNHO network and started offering National Trust Working Holidays to French volunteers – and vice versa. Of the 3,000 volunteers REMPART welcomes to France each year, around 25% are from overseas, underlining the winning formula of REMPART’s good reputation developed over 50 years, the thirst for hands-on heritage experience and the appeal of delicious food and wine in the beautiful French countryside …
We were thrilled that Fabrice Duffaud, the new International Relations Manager, was able to join the first INTO Conference in Dublin in 2009 and connected to INTO members in Malta, who had an existing workcamp programme, and China, where the concept was completely new.
Over the ensuing years INTO, the National Trust and REMPART have worked closely with our colleagues in Shanghai. We were all involved in their touring exhibition, ‘Urban Heritage Conservation in China’ and associated lectures, including one at RIBA, the Royal Institute of British Architects, here in London in 2010. Then a year later, after much consultation and discussion, REMPART and the Ruan Yisan Heritage Foundation (RYHF) organised the first volunteer conservation workcamp in China! The French team, which also included an English student, worked alongside Chinese counterparts on the restoration of a temple site in the village of Liangcun, near the World Heritage City of Pingyao in central Shanxi province, around 500 miles southwest of Beijing. It was a huge success and the INTO team were proud to have played a small part in helping this to happen.
In 2012, with support from the British Council, I had the good fortune to spend time with the RYHF and REMPART in China to see at first hand the progress that had been made at Liangcun and to check out other working holiday locations. (My report can be downloaded here.) Later that year, we were delighted to launch our own, INTO workcamp, based on the REMPART principles and hosted by the RYHF in the ancient Water Town of Tongli. It was super that a National Trust apprentice joiner, Callum McCaffrey, was able to be part of the team which consisted of 8 British and 8 Chinese volunteers. (Read his blog here.)
Since then we have continued to co-operate with REMPART. Last year were pleased to be part of the ERASMUS Heritage Leaders Seminar which sought to share best practice in the selection, training and development of serial workcamp leaders across a range of European organisations. And this year we are hosting a REMPART Civil Service volunteer, Noémie Caillat, in the INTO office.
The ideals and self-help approach of REMPART remind us why we do what we do. As Vice-President, Marie-Georges Brousse said in China ‘If you involve one or two volunteers in your struggle, victory will soon be on the horizon’.
With your focus on mobilising volunteer action to restore community buildings of all shapes and sizes, on traditional skills training and on creating opportunities that may not otherwise be available to people, you are an inspiration to us all. Keep up the good work, don’t change (well, not too much!) and here’s to another successful 50 years!
Read INTO Chairman, Fiona Reynolds, letter of congratulations here.
You can contribute to the current REMPART crowdfunding campaign here.
Read my article about the 2012 visit here China: Reflection on growth and heritage
Find out more about the REMPART philosophy in their A REMPART project is post
Check out the INTO Working Holidays listings
You can watch a video about the 2015 Rempart/Ruan Yisan Working Holiday here.
Thanks for reading!