President’s Conclusion of FRH’s 10th Anniversary Year

President’s Conclusion of FRH’s 10th Anniversary Year

In 2010, a conference was held in Canterbury, England to open a discussion on what could be done to ensure a future for Europe’s religious heritage. This conference brought together some of the top academics, experts in the field, and heritage professionals from all over Europe who shared a common trait – a passion to protect the largest museum of Europe, its religious heritage. This conference marked the beginning of what would become Future for Religious Heritage. Today, this network of dedicated individuals now includes over 170 organisations and individuals in over 30 countries to comprise Europe’s largest non-faith, not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the protection of Europe’s religious heritage. As we close on FRH’s 10th anniversary year, it is my honour and privilege to lead this network into its second decade.

2021 marked 10 years since the establishment of FRH as an official organisation based in Brussels, Belgium. This year the council, the network and the staff have worked hard to honour the legacy of the founders of the FRH network. We have all worked hard in order to ensure that despite the challenges we have faced, we have made it through, and have become a stronger voice for Europe’s religious heritage.

We have celebrated our 10th year through activities, events, and campaigns to remind people that religious heritage is still here and it needs our attention. We have been faced with many challenges and have used them to create opportunities for continuing to work towards our mission. Our FRH biennial conference, originally meant to take place in person in October 2020, instead became four hybrid events that took place online making the discussion of “Europe’s Living Religious Heritage” wider with more people able to take part and the possibility for everyone to join in the discussion. Our campaign #jumpforheritage, by taking place online, allowed everyone across the world the opportunity to join in from wherever they were, bringing attention to little known and remote places of worship. This campaign gave way to the ongoing Run for Heritage which presents a new opportunity to promote religious heritage by uniting it with sports and bringing its attention to young people while also promoting healthy lifestyles.

In addition to these activities, we have managed to endure the challenges of remote working to continue our ongoing activities. FRH Inform, FRH’s ongoing project to present the state of Europe’s religious heritage completed its first phase this year by releasing standardised factsheets for 30 countries presenting statistical information about their religious heritage. Religiana, FRH’s project to create a database of all of Europe’s religious heritage has so far profiled over 8 000 sites on its website, a number that grows each day. Networking events such as our face-to-face meetings and webinars took place throughout the year, sharing good practices and providing educational opportunities for heritage professionals of our network. Finally, FRH has continued to be a voice for religious heritage in the European Commission’s Expert Group on Cultural Heritage where we continue to ensure that policymakers are aware of the importance of protecting religious heritage.

Reflecting on the past 10 years, FRH has achieved much. One of our greatest achievements was being one of the partner organisations of the EU’s European Year of Cultural Heritage in 2018. This year was marked by a number of activities and events that sought to bring attention to the importance of Europe’s cultural heritage. One of these activities was the FRH Torch initiative. Taking inspiration from the Olympic torch, this initiative involved a “torch of heritage and culture” which travelled through several European countries gathering personal letters along the way from individuals who shared why their religious heritage was important to them. The legacy of this initiative was shared in FRH’s first publication, the “FRH Torchbook”. In 2015, FRH launched Europetour, which was an initiative that sought to map and enhance local tourism in rural areas. As a result of this project, eight comprehensive training modules in seven different languages were published which are being used by rural heritage sites to this day. Lastly, ALTERheritage was FRH’s first project which created materials for vocational learning about religious heritage conservation and management and made them more widely available.

All of these achievements could not have been done without the hard work and dedication of the FRH network. This phenomenal group of motivated organisations and individuals is the driving force that has led FRH to become the successful network that it is. Hailing from 30 countries, we have embraced our diversity and drawn strength from each other in order to make great strides toward our common goal. I would like to take this opportunity to thank our founding members, not only for taking the initiative to act upon realising the threats faced by religious heritage, but for dedicating so much of their time, energy, and expertise in order to lay the foundations of this network and help it grow into what it is today. I would also like to thank the European Commission for their support during the Creative Europe networking grant which was a recognition of the importance of our topic and which gave an enormous impulse to strengthen the network. Finally, I would like to thank our friends and supporters who have helped us remain on our feet and continue to establish our place among Europe’s top heritage organisations. FRH owes its success to everyone who has contributed, even a small part, to help it grow.

As we come to the end of our 10th year anniversary, I look to our past and am filled with optimism for the future. FRH has achieved so much in the past 10 years and made such great strides towards its goal. I am filled with confidence as I look at our wealth of experience and the strength of our ever-growing network. Whatever challenges are in store in the next decade, It is my strong belief that FRH will persevere and adapt, to not simply overcome them but to utilise them as opportunities for further growth. Those foresighted individuals in Canterbury 10 years ago embarked on a massive and difficult challenge, to protect Europe’s religious heritage. This task may have seemed impossible given the sheer size of its undertaking and the numerous threats faced by religious heritage. But looking at this challenge today with the strength, knowledge, and experience that our network now has, this mission, while far from over, seems something a bit more achievable.

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