8: Functions for Follies
Private ways of preserving the heritage
The problem: faded grandeur
What useful purpose can be found for splendid but deserted old buildings now at risk from neglect and decay? Must it fall to the national or local government to keep them standing?
The idea: trust to the public
It need not be a government function. Why not establish a charitable trust to renovate buildings and put them to good use by renting them to holidaymakers?
The results: landmark achievements
A number of charitable trusts have been established for this very purpose, following in the pioneering footsteps of the Landmark Trust in the United Kingdom.
Back in 1895, the National Trust was founded by three individuals who were concerned to protect threatened countryside and buildings. Today it cares for over 240,000 hectares of beautiful countryside plus a 575-mile stretch of outstanding coastline and 200 buildings and gardens. Many buildings and cottages on these estates can be rented, as (for example) in the case of John Ruskin's old house, Brantwood, overlooking Lake Coniston in Cumbria.
However, many heritage buildings remain unoccupied, particularly if the original owners find them too large, or too remote, for modern living.
The Landmark Trust was established in 1965 as a charity with two purposes: it aims to rescue old but worthwhile buildings and their surroundings from neglect; secondly, it seeks to promote the general public's enjoyment of these remarkable buildings by letting them for holidays.
In Britain as well as in Italy, the Landmark Trust has saved over 200 buildings of historic interest and architectural importance from decay or unsympathetic alteration. More than 150 of them have been made available for holidays throughout the year.
As a result, many different people find themselves, for a short period of time, the residents of a fine old building. The properties can be rented by anyone who pays to stay for periods ranging from a weekend to three weeks. The visitors can see and use all of it, cook, sleep and play in it, explore the neighbourhood and then return to it. Most of the properties in the Landmark Trust's portfolio are not grand; they tend to be fine examples of their type, whether humble cottages or ornamental buildings whose excuse for existing was little more to amuse, entertain or impress.
Examples of Landmarks range from a whole clutch of properties on Lundy Island in the Severn estuary, to Kingswear Castle in Dartmouth, Devon. The Trust also offers for rent the Appleton Water Tower, in Norfolk; the Banqueting House at Gibside near Newcastle; and the Pigsty, a classical folly originally built for the sole occupancy of two pigs at Robin Hood's Bay in Yorkshire. Its piece de resistance is the Villa Saraceno, a beautiful Renaissance house designed by Andrea Palladio, near Padua in Italy.
Over 40,000 people each year stay in Landmark Trust Properties. Constant use is good for these buildings: it generates an income for maintenance and repair and helps to repay the original renovation costs. However, it must be conceded that water towers and garden follies were not designed to be lived in, while medieval halls reflect a pattern of life markedly different to that pursued today. But that is part of the charm of landmarks; the living arrangements can be … unusual!
Most of the money for each new acquisition and renovation is raised from grants, donations and legacies. The Trust runs a Friends scheme that enables people to attend special events, lectures and openings. It has also launched a corporate sponsorship scheme.
Although the Trust itself works by renting out important buildings, there are other bodies which specialise in providing a sales market for significant properties that are listed by the UK government as being of special architectural or historical interest.
Thus Pavilions of Splendour run a website that shows a number of heritage properties up for sale, with full details. It hosts a page for the Association of Preservation Trusts, and there are links to the Folly Fellowship and the Save Britain's Heritage campaign.
Assessment: in trust and still standing
There are now over 180 building preservation trusts in the UK alone. They repair, conserve and regenerate the country's historic stock of buildings. Through the re-use of neglected buildings, these trusts help to create jobs, provide housing and improve the general quality of life.
Such preservation trusts are an innovative idea which, given the necessary commitment and enthusiasm, can be copied throughout the world.
The Landmark Trust is a success when it comes to saving beautiful, unoccupied buildings from decay and eventual demolition. It also enables people from widely differing backgrounds to gain an idea of the day to day life led by the original owners. They learn something about the history of the building and why and how the builders made it as they did. The founder of the Trust, Sir John Smith, points out that by residing for a short time in a Landmark building, visitors benefit "far more than by paying only to look at it".
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Copyright 2002: Adam Smith Institute
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