The key characteristics of a Trust such as the Gibraltar Heritage Trust (GHT) working as it does, is the ability to modernise, react and change. Since its foundation in 1987 it has evolved from a pressure group to a Trust with a Board of Trustees and over 600 members. The GHT has achieved a great deal in the past 25 years, but amongst the most noteable are:
a) The Gibraltar Heritage Trust Act (the first built-heritage legislation Gibraltar had ever seen) was introduced in 1989, (this will soon be replaced by a more comprehensive new heritage act).
b) Large projects to save sites such as Parson’s Lodge from almost certain demolition,
c) The restoration of the City Hall,
d) Input into the interpretation of heritage sites.
e) The saving of the Sisters Quarters of the Old St Bernard’s Hospital
f) The completion of the refurbishment of the Main Guard offices at John Mackintosh Square.
g) Publication of history booklets and resources.
h) Active contribution to the public discussion of contentious building projects.
In recent decades we have seen the investment by successive Governments in large scale development projects with heritage principles as the main driving factors; projects such as the Casemates Barracks and Square, Orange Bastion, the King’s Bastion Leisure Centre, the Retrenchment Barracks, the Royal Naval Hospital and Wellington Front, the Old St Bernard’s Hospital school conversion and the Ince’s Hall complex conversion to the Gibraltar International Bank are just a number of those both completed and ongoing. The Trust cannot by any means take credit for the completion of these projects; however it has undoubtedly had an influence in keeping these items in the public eye, raising awareness about the importance of retaining and reusing these buildings.
It can be said that never before has heritage been such a key player in the development of the urban fabric; the Gibraltar Development plan, published towards the end of 2009, has specific heritage-orientated guidelines and regulations within it and clearly laid out conservation areas. The GHT has been at the forefront of defending these principles especially within the, now public, Development and Planning Commission discussions. This comprehensive document gives a long term vision for the development of Gibraltar and, importantly from the Trust’s point of view, the heritage resources within it.
Although heritage conservation is not new, it has been almost ‘object-oriented’ and its scope has traditionally been limited to single buildings for many years. Area-based protection, such as conservation areas, and its integration into public policy is a relatively recent phenomenon. In many countries, rapid urban development and change during the post-war era constituted a major threat for heritage, and urban identity was in peril. Opposition to the loss of urban identity as a result of massive housing projects and comprehensive redevelopment schemes led to the realisation of the merits of protecting the historic character of towns. Although it has taken a long time to happen in Gibraltar, we are finally realising the importance of what makes Gibraltar’s architectural heritage unique.
Cities all over the world are realising the huge potential of the historical environment for bringing business, tourism and prosperity to a town. This is something the Trust, in common with many trusts and heritage-orientated organisations around the world has recognised and has been pushing for. The key to the survival of our heritage is its sustainable management for long-term use. Nevertheless, this can only begin with recognition and awareness of what our historical resource is. The new Heritage Act will help to give our old town and buildings the degree of protection it needs to fulfil this aim.
As an independent statutory body the GHT, governed by a Board of twelve voluntary Trustees, aims to work with all like-minded bodies, both locally and internationally, for the preservation and enhancement of all aspects of Gibraltar’s heritage, which includes promoting all aspects of Gibraltar’s heritage culturally, educationally and touristically.
There are a number of bodies within Gibraltar that have been working towards different aspects of heritage documentation and conservation for many years. Institutions such as the Gibraltar Museum, The Government Archives, The Garrison Library, each contributing to the advancement of the preservation of Gibraltar’s past be it documentary or physical evidence. Add to this the exhaustive list of authors and researchers who have published books and articles on aspects of Gibraltar’s history that may otherwise have been forgotten.
THE HERITAGE CULTURE
For the community of Gibraltar, residents and visitors alike, the City of Gibraltar becomes part of their physical environment through personal experience and attachment. In any historic environment there are competing demands and underlying tensions between past and present cultures and needs, between the familiarity of the old and the thirst for progress attached to the new. Through the contributions of international organisations such as the Council of Europe, UNESCO, and ICOMOS (International Council on Monuments and Sites) cultural heritage is becoming recognised as a significant link in urban life and the development process. This is something to which Gibraltar has not been immune.
The Trust’s vision remains to provide a distinctive, additional and effective service for the benefit of Gibraltar’s heritage. The Trust’s objectives for Gibraltar’s historic environment are that this rich resource be:
1) Better and more widely understood by all, especially younger generations;
2) Better conserved and enhanced for future generations through good maintenance and careful use;
3) A vibrant context for modern day activity and a catalyst for environmental, cultural, economic and social change.
The Trust desires to inspire the individual, the community, organisations and businesses within Gibraltar to appreciate and take pride in the heritage around them and to stimulate debate on how this heritage should be conserved for future generations to enjoy. For the building community the Trust wants to advise and help foster a sensitive restoration of our older buildings respecting the exterior and equally important interior features. We are also interested in working with potential developers on the scale and design of large projects from a very early concept stage thus helping to foster cooperation between the Trust and developers as well as individual members of the building industry.
If you have not done so already, consider joining the Gibraltar Heritage Trust and lend your support to the work being done to conserve Gibraltar’s historic landscape. Our heritage is a finite resource, and not to be taken for granted. It is the responsibility of current generations to lay the foundations of protection for the future - in doing so we are in fact conserving our community, beliefs, natural environment and culture not just buildings.