Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust has been awarded funding from The Headley Trust to deliver traditional skills training in Bulgaria. The Trust will be working in partnership with the Devetaki Plateau Association, a Bulgarian NGO.
The Devetaki Plateau is made up of a collection of villages representing a rare architectural survival. The buildings are constructed from clay, stone and timber using vernacular building techniques dating back hundreds of years.
The two organisations are sharing knowledge, skills and experience to work together in tackling common problems of the loss of traditional building skills, the erosion of cultural heritage and issues of high unemployment and social deprivation.
The first working group spent two weeks in May 2014 undertaking a full measured survey of Karpachevo Watermill, produced a full specification for the repair, and produced a drawn architectural scheme for the reuse of the watermill as training hub and visitor centre.
The group was made up of students from Sofia University and Lincoln University, a member of the Bulgarian government department for cultural assets, a senior lecturer in architectural conservation from Sofia University, a conservation architect and building conservator from Great Yarmouth.
Time was spent working with the local community providing training in surveying and recording techniques. One aim of the project is to develop a Devetaki Plateau Preservation Trust and providing local people with basic survey skills is essential to begin the process of recording the historic built environment.
Two other buildings demonstrating the regional vernacular architectural style were surveyed and recorded. The village of Karpachevo was mapped and important vernacular styles and details identified and plotted.
A second working group visited the watermill in September 2014 and spent two weeks undertaking conservation and repair work. The team, made up of Bulgarian and British students, architects, surveyors and local people, made remarkable progress.
A group of conservation students sorted and catalogued the extensive collection of artefacts left in the mill and identified appropriate conservation measures. Other members of the team cleared the debris from the mill and carried out emergency repairs to floors, and windows.
The team undertook extensive re-plastering of the interior of the mill using the traditional vernacular material of clay. This was dug by the team and mixed with straw, to prevent cracking, the exact ratio followed analysis of the original clay plaster which had deteriorated. This technique is a fundamental element in the regional architectural style but has been completely lost, to re-learn this and engage the local community in this tradition was an enormous step for the project.
Four other buildings demonstrating examples of vernacular architectural style were recorded. A talk was given to the regional council explaining the project and talks were given to local community groups explaining the project and asking for volunteers.