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Community-led restoration enriches rural life, bonds people

The restoration of the Lalsi Church.
The restoration of the Lalsi Church. Source: Olev Kenk/ERR

Triin Reidla, a heritage and architectural expert, told Klassikaraadio that the so-called guerrilla restoration, or community initiated restoration, brings people together and revitalizes rural life.

Reidla said Estonia has a lot of heritage and cultural objects, many but not all of which are protected and some are in poor condition.

"There are some heritage buildings that are in rather poor condition and may be important at the community or regional level, but not at the national level. Nevertheless, it is important that our living environment is diverse and that local heritage buildings are also preserved or protected," Reidla said.

Reidla said that there are usually two causes behind the guerrilla restoration: "One is that there is a local community that is involved on a site and they feel the need to have that site in order," she said.

"Then we also have traveling restoration teams in Estonia that visit different places on a rotating basis. One of the best known of these is the Vanaajamaja team, which is an international team with people from Japan and America coming here to restore historic buildings," Reidla said, noting that more and more churches are being restored recently.

"One of them is the church of Lalsi, which has been worked on for five or six years, before that there was the wooden church of Puutli."

"One of the earliest [examples] is the Friends of Friendless Churches (FoFC) in England, which was founded in the 1950s and is now dedicated to the care and promotion of churches that are empty or abandoned," Reidla said.

Reidla herself would put the emphasis on tidying up smaller spaces such as pavilions, shops or bus stops.

"These are the kinds of things that often get lost and no one pays attention to," she said.

"Any wooden architecture – think of farm buildings; wood as a material is disappearing faster; if these structures don't have a roof, they're going to fall apart pretty quickly," she said.

Restoration projects also bring people together, both within the communities and from outside. "Many of the people behind these restoration projects are vacationers, not permanent residents. Maybe this is where these year-round residents and vacationers come together. Maybe there is a greater sense of openness in rural areas," Reidla said.

In the case of the rural store restoration, the initiative has a positive long-term impact. "There is now a year-round shop, and in the summer, for example, local children can try out their first jobs. For example, the shop's signage is in the local dialect, a charming touch that brings this heritage to life in many ways," Reidla said.


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Editor: Rasmus Kuninga, Kristina Kersa

Source: Interviewer Aleksander Metsamärt

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