Ambulance for Monuments
European Heritage Awards / Europa Nostra Awards 2020 - Education, Training and Awareness-Raising
Volunteers Applying Hands-On Training for Safeguarding the Heritage at Risk
Eugen Vaida President, Network of Private Rural Ethnographic Collections and Museums from Romania
str. Principala nr. 557 Al?îna, Sibiu Romania CP 557005
Asociatia Monumentum was established in 2012 with the mission of safeguarding, preserving, promoting and capitalizing on heritage viewed as a trademark of local identity, with the sustained support of local communities. Bringing together local communities and professionals through educational programs is one of our chief concerns and it represents by far the most effective way to achieve sustainable development, while contributing to the preservation of built heritage with the purpose of acknowledging its true cultural and historical value.
Launched in 2016 in Southern Transylvania by a group of heritage professionals, the Ambulance for Monuments aims to safeguard over 600 listed historical buildings throughout Romania which are in an advanced stage of degradation. As such, the Ambulance answers to the shortfalls of both the Ministry of Culture and the owners of the endangered buildings in preserving the historical sites. The project is similar to a franchise system, being developed by a network of local heritage organizations. The heart of the Ambulance is a van equipped with tools, equipment and requisite materials. Beside its main objective, there are several other factors which give the Ambulance the confidence to generate a long term impact: the hands-on professional training of young craftsmen and students, its engagement of and awareness rising function within local communities (which regularly secure free meals and accommodation for the participants), the recovery of ancient traditional skills and crafts and, last but not least, the promotion of philanthropy within Romanian civil society.
The idea came from a handful of experts who came together to seek solutions to the accelerating monument loss in Romania. They decided to run the project through the Monumentum Association which already had a wide experience with similar projects. Right from the beginning the Ambulance for Monuments enjoyed the financial support of HRH The Prince of Wales. After a few years of exponential development, the project became highly popular in Romania and nowadays it benefits from a wide range of public and private support from institutions, donors and companies which are willing to contribute to the re-construction of Romania’s national and local identity, 30 years after the fall of the communist regime.
The ambulance calls all Romanians to action in a desperate race against time to save and strengthen their own cultural identity. Whether young or old, priest or mayor, architect or driver, everyone has their special place within the Ambulance and becomes a change-maker. Rescuing from collapse and degradation more than 50 buildings spread all around Romania secured the project’s national impact, while its engagement of and awareness rising functions within local communities, as well as the long-term expertise it offers make it into a strong community development project.
The Ambulance for Monuments preserves the diversity of expressions of roof coverings, against the unifying and standardizing approach promoted by projects funded by EU grants.
The jury stated: The Ambulance for Monuments project acts with great sensitivity to emergency interventions and the maintenance and the restoration of heritage buildings. The initiative is active in many regions throughout Romania and especially focuses on neglected rural areas which are facing population decline. It trains volunteers to work in the field of restoration under the guidance of conservation experts, which is a good way of reviving forgotten techniques and skills. Also notable is the successful cooperation between organisations, authorities and other stakeholders at local, regional and national levels. This strong initiative could be adapted to a number of countries in Europe.
The Ambulance’s original touch was achieved by importing a modus operandi from the field of medicine based on similarities between buildings and the human body. The “patient” is given first aid with the support of an “ambulance” equipped with tools and construction materials. A franchise system of development such as the Ambulance’s is a rare approach in the heritage sector, but what truly makes the Ambulance unique is a recipe which seems to work for the salvation of every historical building and which is a fine balance securing the contribution of all the four requisite actors which should contribute to the preservation of built heritage: the local community and the owners which provide food and accommodation for the volunteers, the local and regional authorities providing the construction materials, the community of experts furnishing the documentation and coordinating the technical workshops, and the NGO which is leading the program mediating between all these actors.
The project identifies passionate young specialists in each region, mainly working in the fields of architecture, archaeology, history and engineering, who are willing to set up a heritage organization and to implement the project. The team members who are currently coordinating the Ambulance are former volunteers with precious experience in both organizational and technical matters before implementing the project. Nowadays the extension of the Ambulance in new territories has been slowed down in order to cement a common work methodology and conservation principles.
There are hardly any moments we would label “the most difficult;” once started in 2016, the project kept growing and rolling avidly like a boulder going down a hillside. The most challenging aspect remains the lack of trained personnel necessary to extend the project in all regions so as to fulfill the existing demand: at the moment, the development is slowed down due to a lack of appropriately trained experts who should run the project on the ground, but this issue is expected to be solved as soon as new specialists climb up from the ranks of our volunteers. If we were about to manage the project all over again, we would start right from the beginning with a long term training program for the members of the Ambulances which they should complete long before leading the operations on the ground.
The interventions have been completed after achieving a verbal agreement in which the owner commits to secure the maintenance of the building and to continue taking steps towards its conservation and restoration. Despite many successful stories, in some cases this could not be fulfilled due to various objective reasons. We aim to find solutions to achieve a more effective follow up on our interventions.
The Ambulance combines in an efficient way theoretical knowledge with field research and the practical skills of young professionals, based on a lively exchange of information within a network of experts it has established. It offers strong auspices for developing soft skills and competences while working in an interdisciplinary team. All these lead to valid and innovative solutions for the conservation and the safeguarding of the buildings the Ambulance intervenes upon.
The most successful interventions of the Ambulance are those where the community has been engaged at its highest potential. However, encoding communities’ cultural values towards making them aware of the value of their own heritage is often a difficult task. We highly recommend pursuing socio-anthropological research on the targeted community before embarking on a similar endeavor. Moreover, it would be helpful to have leaders which possess both technical and psychological skills, being able to understand traditions and grasp unwritten laws.