I was delighted to be invited to Paris by INTO members, Union REMPART, this weekend. As part of the International Heritage Fair, REMPART organised an event focused on volunteer involvement in heritage. I was asked to speak about the National Trust, INTO and the future of engagement. I joined other REMPART partners from Poland, Italy and France on stage in Paris to discuss this important topic.
The event began with an outline of REMPART’s work by Fabrice Duffaud. I have a confession to make. I LOVE REMPART, which you will know if you have read an earlier blog. Briefly, I love their passion, their social conscience, their hands-on approach, their involvement of youth. So much for us all to learn from REMPART! (And I’m already planning to join one of their chantiers or working holidays next year … )
We then heard from Orane Proisy from the French Ministry of Culture. Orane set the scene in terms of the European Year of Cultural Heritage. I really liked their Rendez-vous aux jardins project – similar to Open Garden Squares Weekend, started here by our INTO friend, Ian Kennaway. Next up was Laura Soulard who shared what a chantier at Villandraut run by Adichats looks like. Then Przemyslaw Nocun introduced the activities of the Siedlęcin Ducal Tower Association. (And it was their mascot, Lancelot du Lac’s, first visit to Paris!)
Francesco Fulvi then spoke about an amazing project to renovate a 1960s factory building in Parma. Finally I finished up, speaking about the National Trust and the global context in which we work through INTO. Everyone is inspired by the National Trust. which is very humbling as funnily enough, we at INTO are all inspired by REMPART!
It was a fascinating event which helped me reflect on why we do what we do. To my mind, what REMPART does is a radical return to the basic principles of our movement. We can all learn from these amazing organisations routed in social justice and community, focused on the transmission of practical conservation skills and the creation of opportunities to meet and work together across the world.
The National Trust published a report that scientifically shows that people experience intense feelings of well-being, contentment and belonging to places that evoke positive memories. (I’m sure this is not something that applies just in the UK!) And heritage has an even more important role right now, in our polarised and online society where we tend to engage with ‘people like us’.
National Trust properties and other public places across the world can be spaces of transition. Spaces where people can understand each other better and where obstacles are removed. Investing in heritage is a choice to develop health, well-being and education, to tackle loneliness, build community cohesion and stimulate economic growth.
Heritage has a positive impact on individuals and creates all kinds of benefits for the public. In the end, investing in heritage is a way to support people in their lives. Heritage is people, after all.
Earlier in the day, I had spent several hours visiting the Fair at the Louvre in the heart of Paris. Here I met various heritage organisations including the US-based French Heritage Society, the innovative Adopte un Chateau, powered by the Dartagnans platform, Vieilles Maison Françaises and Patrimoine Environnement, amongst others.
I still feel a bit confused about who does, but it was great learning more about the French heritage sector. I sensed a lot of passion, a bit of friendly competition but mostly good cooperation between the different actors. One thing that was mentioned several times was the need for a French National Trust. Well, we’d love that and would happily get involved!
I also ran into colleagues from the Romanian National Heritage Institute, with whom we are working on the Innocastle Project, as well as craftspeople from China and South Korea.
It was also fascinating to see all the heritage crafts people assembled in Paris. Not only were visitors met at the entrance by Gabriel (aged 12) offering the chance to try stone-masonry at the REMPART stand. (I also had a go – see above!) But elsewhere there were carpet menders, potters and gilders all plying their trades. So it was a lovely mix of practical conservation skills, technology, organisations. I even found two ‘cuzzles‘, lovely handmade wooden puzzles to take home for the children!
All in all, a wonderful 24 hours in Paris! Thank you REMPART for your warm welcome and for everything you do for heritage. In France, in Europe and internationally! (And thank you Marie-Georges Pagel-Brousse, President of REMPART, for the photos and tweets!)