I’d forgotten how much I love the Eurostar. When I first started working for the National Trust I travelled to Brussels quite regularly. I was part of a team that focussed on European relations. My role was to run the European Network of National Heritage Organisations, which we launched in Brussels in November 1999. I had only been with the Trust a few months so it was a baptism of fire!
In many ways, ENNHO was a precursor to INTO having also developed out of the International Conference of National Trusts. My recollection, although before my time, was that the idea developed at the ICNT in Puerto Rico. It was also partly a way to bring together all the organisations involved in an EU-funded exchange programme. ENNHO aimed to enable more exchange, project development and learning. Much like INTO. It also sought to inform its members about relevant European legislation and initiatives, hence the many visits to Brussels.
So taking the Eurostar on Sunday was full of memories. I still think it is magical that you can leave London by train and be in Brussels in two hours! From there, I went on to Antwerp to meet the team preparing our 2021 ICNT. They have a beautiful office in the city centre and it was good to chat through logistics in person.
Following the meeting, I headed off to Brussels with Emma Thompson, who is working with us on the Innocastle Project. This was a partner meeting to discuss project management, the organisational learning, stakeholder mapping and baseline survey. Furthermore it was an opportunity to further define the forthcoming study visit to Wales.
We met Eurostar partners, the Province of Gelderland, University College of Ghent and the Romanian National Institute of Heritage. We also met for the first time our new partners from the Regional Government of Badajoz in Spain.
Having just finished the first project report, it was particularly good to get into the real content. Following the Romanian visit, we have identified topics under the four objectives (governance, finance, promotion and dissemination). We will explore each in more detail over the coming months. Our study visit will touch on several, including audience development, partnerships, business planning, branding, etc.
The UK study visit will include a public event at the Hay Festival and a thematic seminar. We are therefore keen to involve our INTO Europe colleagues. It will be an excellent opportunity for them to explore important issues for rural heritage development. But also a chance for us to disseminate the Innocastle results thus far and to build our network.
Later in the week, I participated in an Interreg webinar on cultural routes. Innocastle was mentioned a couple of times, particularly making cultural connections between sites through storytelling and cultural routes. As well as the importance of multi-level, multi-sectoral policies. What struck me as interesting was the general lack of expertise in network management. It seems we might have some good experience to share on that front.
Finally on Friday I connected to Lucy Latham from Julie’s Bicycle. I had met Lucy at the Climate Change talks in Katowice last year. She was there to talk about their EU Horizon 2020 ROCK Project. ROCK explores how cultural heritage can be a driver of regeneration and sustainable development in historic city centres. There seems to be some good synergy with the Innocastle project, which we hope to explore further. I’m also going to record a short interview about INTO’s work on this topic.
So, amid all the discussion about leaving the European Union, a week of European connections – both physical and virtual! Good to remember that, just like the Eurostar, these personal networks will continue (and even become even more important) after Brexit.