Aiud conservation and training foundation project
On 10 July at 8.00 p.m. a flight landed from Budapest via Munich carrying five members of The Transylvania Trust and 12 Romanian craftsman/site managers, to herald the commencement of the ACTT Foundation Project. Since our last report to Context there has been frantic activity both here and in Romania to enable the project to proceed. The international co-operation between The Transylvania Trust and The IHBC has now been solidly founded. By the time this article appears the Foundation Project will have been completed, hopefully, successfully, and a further interim stage will be underway in Aiud in preparation for the implementation of the main project during summer 2000.

The Foundation Project has been funded through The Eminescu Trust, which has its base in London and which specifically funds projects which will have a cultural and educational benefit to Romania. We were initially advised to contact the Trust by The Prince of Wales's Office at St. James's Palace. The Trust has been involved in promoting and sponsoring projects in Romania for a number of years and much to our surprise we discovered that it was involved in an initiative between Romanian and Herefordshire villages during the 1970s.

The Foundation Project has generated significant interest in the Marches area where it has been based and has allowed many local firms and craftsmen to participate and share a direct exchange of knowledge and expertise with their Romanian counterparts. The Romanian participants have included plasterers, renderers, stone masons, carpenters, site managers, architects and structural engineers.

The initial aims of the Foundation Project were:

  1. to inform key students and members of the Transylvania Trust on British Conservation Philosophy and Practice through an intensive learning course based at Oxford Brookes University;
  2. to provide a wide cultural and conservation base in preparation for the implementation of the main ACTT Project;
  3. to inform the UK conservation professional on the history and culture of Romania to provide a thorough understanding of its historic built heritage.

As the project has now developed the level of expertise of the participants has enabled a much more balanced exchange to proceed, and we hope to report further on whether our aims have been achieved.

The total cost of the Foundation Project is in the region of £42,000 of which £16,000 has been accumulated through "grants in kind" -the professional input of the British Conservation team and the Transylvania Trust, sponsorship by Romanian building firms, administrative services through Local Authorities - and £26,000 has been directly funded by the Eminescu Trust. Acquiring funding for the project has presented us with a major learning curve. Our initial inquiries through the Charity Know How Fund were very favourably received but not supported when it came to making the application. A number of funding sources were targeted, and the Eminescu Trust, through Jessica Douglas-Home, responded with very keen enthusiasm. A principal Trustee is Sherban Cantacuzino who has shown a major interest in the project, and he will be visiting the various craftsmen at different stages of the project, together with Jessica Douglas-Home, and a delegation from IHBC National Council.

The four week programme has been structured in such a way as to ensure that the craftsmen obtain as wide experience as possible of British conservation practice. This was achieved through placements with British craftsmen on a variety of contracts throughout the West Midlands.

The initial programme has included a formal lecture module provided by staff from Oxford Brookes University and led by Phil Grover. The three day module provided the opportunity for learning and discussion on the basic question of 'Why Conserve" the Development of Specialist Skills/Markets/Materials, the Legislative Framework and the Role of Conservation Officers, English Heritage and IHBC. In Romania the conservation movement is still in its infancy and the legislative frame has still not evolved, but moves are currently underway to provide such a framework.

The 2nd, 3rd and 4th weeks are to be entirely allocated to placements for the craftsmen. in parallel, a further programme has been provided for members of the Transylvania Trust, who are primarily qualified structural engineers and architects. At times their thirst for knowledge has seemed unquenchable, and there have been a number of detailed discussions on the philosophical approach of engineering solutions to historic building problems. These will form the basis of further articles for Context/Newsletter, and will include articles by members of the Trust on comparisons between Romanian and British building practice and traditions.

What has become clear in a very short period (we are currently, as writing, only on the second week of the project) is that the desire to repair and conserve the quality built heritage of Romania is paramount. The skills and expertise of the Romanian craftsmen is high and has enabled a genuine exchange of knowledge and skills to take place with their British counterparts. This is clearly only the beginning of a very long partnership between the IHBC and the Transylvania Trust, with discussions already looking at additional projects and exchanges. There is opportunity for direct involvement by a wide number of IHBC members. The more diverse experience we can provide the greater the benefit that will accrue. In particular there will be an opportunity for members to participate in or visit the main ACTT project in Aiud during summer 2000.

For more information contact Dave Baxter (01432 261950) or Colin Richards (01584 874941)
Context 63 September 1999