I came back from the INTO EC/Board meeting in Milan first thing this morning. A wonderful few days with the global team – and a fantastic chance to find out more about our Italian INTO members FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano – the Italian National Trust).
I know board meetings can sometimes be a bit of a mixed bag, but this was our first face-to-face gathering under Fiona Reynolds’ new chairmanship, so an important opportunity to build relationships (not always easy on teleconferences!). My job is to report on what we’ve been doing and then essentially to try and get the best out of everyone there – to maximise our collective wisdom, if you like, so that we can move INTO forward. It’s also my job to write the minutes, which will follow soon! (It really is all about communication.)
We spent most of Thursday in session, discussing the usual items like finances and operating reports. One major one was a paper from the governance working group which had some firm recommendations for the future – including a new constitution and structure – which will be communicated in more detail outside of this blog. We also refreshed our rolling strategy which I will be working up in the next few weeks. All in all a very positive day.
But it was more than just a day’s meeting of course. The opportunity to gel as a group was hugely enhanced by the various delicious meals, site visits and learning opportunities we enjoyed together.
The absolute highlight for me was meeting FAI colleagues and our visits to the FAI properties Villa Necchi, Villa Balbianello and Villa Panza. FAI is one of the global family of National Trusts that I often talk about to other Trusts and groups: their wonderful sites, many given by their previous owners to FAI; their amazing outreach programmes (I Luoghi del Cuore [Places of the Heart], Giornate FAI di Primavera [Spring Days]); and inspirational youth work (recently awarded a Europa Nostra prize). I always also mention that FAI has the most facebook friends of all the INTO member organisations (well over half a million)!
And yet, I have never visited a FAI property. I have met various members of the FAI team, but never in Italy! So it was a huge pleasure to spend the day in their glorious headquarters (Milan’s Cavallerizza, a former military horse riding school beautifully transformed into spacious offices) and to introduce INTO to FAI staff. Fiona is much loved by FAI having spent some time three years ago offering them strategic advice. The session concluded with Professor Carandini, FAI’s President, promising greater future involvement in INTO, which is hugely exciting as they have such a lot of great experience to share – and also perhaps things to learn from our 66 other members around the world.
Villa del Balbianello is definitely my current Luogo del Cuore! We drove up from Milan to Como and were treated to some magnificent views of the Lake before dropping down to Lenno where we boarded a small boat so that we could arrive in traditional style. As we came around the headland we caught our first glimpse of the Villa. A beautiful golden building on many levels with its geranium-edged terraces that rise up from the water’s edge and distinctive umbrella trees (it takes 3 weeks to clip one, apparently!). It is not hard to understand why Italian explorer and entrepreneur Guido Monzino fell in love with Balbianello, making it his home and eventually bequeathing it to FAI in 1988.
In the afternoon, we had a wonderful if slightly hurried visit to Villa Panza with its amazing art collection. To begin with I was rather taken aback by the juxtaposition of contemporary art and 18th century surroundings. But it was a good challenge to our preconceptions of the historic house museum, which we soon embraced. The final installation, Ganzfeld (from the psychology experiment into sensory deprivation) was particularly gripping – rather like skiing in a whiteout!
On Saturday, our friends at FAI had organised a wonderful tour of Milan taking in many famous land- and artworks. All in all, it was wonderful to spend three days with the INTO team – great company, great food, great conversations. (More photos to follow shortly from Noémie.)
The INTO Executive Committee/Board/Secretariat brings together the very finest of the global National Trust movement. Leaders past and present of our individual organisations; a vast knowledge of the heritage and conservation worlds; and huge amounts of skill and experience which they share big-heartedly in order to make INTO greater than the sum of its parts. I am continually humbled by their wisdom and generosity.
Up early today and home in time to cook Sunday lunch for the gang at River House – and to pop next door to find out what the Grange Festival has planned for next year. Lovely.