So this week began with a meeting with Oleg Ryzkkov, Deputy Minister of Culture for the Russian Federation. Recently promoted from Head of the Russian Heritage Agency, Mr Ryzkhov was on a fact-finding visit with the National Trust here. He is responsible for all cultural heritage (including the RHA) as well as restoration and investment.
We talked about the possibility of a future INTO meeting in Russia but the visit was really focussed on learning from the National Trust. There are a huge number of country estates and manors in the central part of Russia, many in ruins. The government doesn’t have the budget to restore them all. Moreover, it has an ambition to bring these places to life, not simply by turning them into more museums. Hence this collaboration with the National Trust.
Mr Ryzkhov and Irina Karabanova, the project manager responsible for developing international cooperation, had a warm welcome at numerous NT sites. They started at Tyntesfield where the Trust set up a property from scratch in 2003.
Winston Churchill’s Chartwell offered a model for looking after the home of a famous person (there are many of these in the RHA’s care). Stowe and Ashridge (where the houses are let out for other purposes – a school and management training centre respectively) provided alternative models to the visitor attraction. And they stayed at Hartwell House (a National Trust hotel).
They left at the end of the week inspired and determined to grow the support and interest of the Russian people.
On Wednesday, I attended an event in Prague celebrating the third anniversary of the Czech National Trust. It was an opportunity for the CNT team to update supporters on progress and to invite further support. Generously hosted by the Austrian Ambassador, it was a wonderful evening.
I was lucky enough to have a wonderful tour of Prague Castle with Zdeněk Lukeš. Zdeněk helped Václav Havel revitalize the Castle after the Velvet Revolution and is consequently deeply knowledgeable.
First of all, we visited President Masaryk’s beautifully restored library. (I even got to sign the visitors’ book – along with Tom Stoppard and Arthur Miller, amongst others!) Then the amazing Baroque bling of the Spanish Hall and Rudolf Gallery. An eerie communist era cinema. And lastly the quiet gothic confidence of the Vladislav Hall. (A little like Westminster Hall – there is even a staircase you can ride up on horseback to take part in a joust!)
In St. Vitus Cathedral, the tomb of St. Wenceslas and the small door with seven locks leading to the Czech Crown Jewels was particularly interesting.
In all, Prague Castle is an extraordinary mix of Gothic, neo-gothic, renaissance, baroque, classicist and the Art Nouveau additions of Jože Plečnik. It is also very popular and was gently humming with tourists during my visit. From there, the Strahov Monastery where we are holding a working holiday this year and where I was shown the most beautiful libraries by the Abbot.
Finally, on Friday we had the pleasure of welcoming the Council of the National Trust for Historic Preservation to our offices in Grosvenor Gardens. They were on a visit to London taking in secret gardens and hidden gems. The trip culminated in a drinks party with INTO and the National Trust, hosted by Fiona Reynolds.
In her remarks, Fiona firstly spoke about meeting David Brown at the International Conference of National Trusts in Edinburgh in 2003. She thanked him and NTHP wholeheartedly for all they had done towards and since the establishment of INTO. She mentioned the 2005 Conference they hosted in Washington and her meeting with Stephanie Meeks, now President of NTHP but then at the Nature Conservancy.
Fiona ended with a quote from NTHP President, Jackson Walter, who gave an address entitled: “The Future of our Past: The National Trust, Public Policy and Community Revitalisation in the United States” at the 1986 ICNT in England.
I read the whole speech, which was excellent. Jackson Walter talked about Jane Jacobs’ work in Greenwich Village, Ann Pamela Cunningham’s fight to save Mount Vernon and the evolution of a legislative framework to protect and preserve America’s historic resources. He mentions the – then fairly new – Main Street Program, which must have really inspired our ICNT delegates.
But it is this quote that resonates particularly. “Because we are such a young nation, we have to think long and hard about common, ordinary things: How can we build safe streets? What makes a neighbourhood? What makes a city work in real life? How can we promote social and economic vitality? And for preservationists, what parts can our past play in today’s events and tomorrow’s hopes?”
Lastly, Stephanie underlined the links between the three organisations – INTO, the National Trust (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the National Trust for Historic Preservation. She spoke about a great working partnership and strong connections developed over the years. And that’s, after all, what it’s all about …
Thanks for reading!