On our third and final day of meetings for the Executive Committee of the International National Trusts Organisation (INTO) in Bratislava, we wrapped up all the detail work that any board has to address. But after the budget was approved, annual plans reviewed, and grant proposals considered, our hosts from the National Trust of Slovakia invited us to join them in an afternoon that put all our work in perspective.
One of the reasons for meeting in Bratislava was to help reinforce the important work of the Slovakian National Trust and to provide its supporters with ideas from National Trusts around the world. So with the help of the Directorate for Education and Culture for the European Commission, the 10 National Trusts represented at the meeting joined in a symposium to demonstrate partnerships between national governments and the private or non-government organization (NGO) sector.
For four hours we heard presentations and saw photographs of how preservationists and conservationists (as we are often called in Europe) are making a real difference in people’s lives. From Australia, Simon Molesworth – INTO’s chairman – told how the Australian Council of National Trusts’ 10 Most Endangered Historic Places list was instrumental in stopping a major waterside development in North Bank, Brisbane, that would have effectively severed all connection between a historic community and its residents and the ocean that was their heritage.
Indian National Trust Chairman S.K. Misrah was forceful in showing how INTACH was using heritage to provide job training, skills, and livelihoods for some of his country’s most impoverished – and oldest – places. I’ve seen INTACH’s work in person and believe that they have built a powerful program that provides critical support to help people live because they respect and support local traditions and heritage.
There were more presentations that spoke to critical work of National Trusts. The Bermuda Trust under Nicola O’Leary’s leadership was working closely with local government to push consideration of the harmful affects of hotel over-building – before the hotels were built. Simon Murray of the National Trust in the United Kingdom spoke of their pioneering work in combating climate change through good conservation practices at the vast holdings of the Trust, including 1/3 of the coast line in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Support for best practices in land conservation on local agricultural lands in Canada, protection for more than 130 of the most historic and beautiful places in The Netherlands, and work to raise awareness in Ireland were just other examples from a very full afternoon.
After participating in the partnership symposium, I came away convinced that we’re making an important difference in the lives of people from all walks of life all around the globe. And for that all of us – whether we call ourselves preservationists or conservationists – can take a short victory lap before we return to the never-ending work at hand.
David J. Brown is Executive Vice President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.