The International National Trusts Organisation (INTO)

Withstanding Change: Blickling Revisited

BlogsClimate changeINTO Projects June 11, 2024

A renewed view

In August 2023, Omniya Abdel Barr of the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation (EHRF) spent the day visiting Blickling Estate, which is twinned with Bayt al Razzaz in Cairo as part of the Withstanding Change project.

Fast forward 9 months, and it’s time to revisit. This was an opportunity for Heather Jermy, Blickling’s General Manager, to show Omniya around with a slightly different lens, following on from her own visit to Cairo in January 2024.

The Withstanding Change project

In 2022, INTO was awarded £1.6 million from the British Council, for a programme of climate adaptation in partnership with organisations in the Middle East and Africa. Supported by the INTO project team, our partners are restoring six historic sites threatened by climate change.

Withstanding Change

Dreams can come true

Heather Jermy, General Manager, Blickling Estate National Trust

When I was younger, I had dreams of becoming an Egyptologist. I was obsessed with Ancient Egyptian history, mythology, and culture, poring over books packed with imagery of Tutankhamun’s treasures and theories of how the pyramids were built.

My path in life took me in a different direction, so when I found myself as General Manager of a National Trust place being asked to visit Cairo to speak about climate adaptation, there was a little thrill about (finally!) going to Egypt. I was lucky enough to visit the pyramids and it was spectacular, but I was much more inspired by meeting Omniya and her team at Bayt al-Razzaz.

There is an incredible untold medieval history in Egypt that they are passionate about telling, and it felt good to share the challenges we face with climate change and the positive steps we are taking to adapt our places and engage people in the work we are doing.

Our growing relationship with the Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation is helping us think differently about how we talk to and engage with political leaders, stakeholders, and our local communities. Omniya and her team are doing amazing work to highlight Bayt al-Razzaz and the work they are doing there, sharing their struggles and their successes to garner support now and in the future.

Learning together

We can learn so much from the way that they bring people into the site and engage with them, especially letting the buildings speak for themselves in their design, construction, and beauty and all the reasons why it is so important to save it.

There is something galvanising about seeing the similarities in what we are facing into: despite completely different cultures and climates we are both having to think about major rainfall events and ‘shrink/swell’ or soil heave (when foundations are affected by drought and/or heavy rainfall). The saying ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’ certainly applies as we share what we are doing practically, as well as gain inspiration from each other in how we act as cultural and climate change leaders at our places and beyond.
- Heather Jermy, General Manager, Blickling Estate National Trust

A new landscape to navigate

Omniya Abdel Barr, Head of Development, Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation

Climate change is still a very new term in the cultural heritage field. In Cairo, we are focused on stopping the structural deterioration, preventing vandalism and violation, and securing financial resources. Every summer we say it is getting hotter, and during springtime we notice how the weather is becoming unpredictable. However, we do not really translate these observations into real concerns about the effect of climate change on our historic built fabric.

Until something bad happens.

In March 2020, a building adjacent to Bayt al-Razzaz collapsed due to extreme heavy rainfall. It caused severe damage to the historic building, and we started seeing alarming signs in the walls and ceilings. This was a wake-up call, and we realised that we needed to start preparing to face the consequences of climate change in Cairo. Something I knew nothing about.

Therefore, you cannot imagine my joy, when INTO introduced me to Heather and the Blickling Estate team. I felt that we were not alone. Visiting our sites together, was refreshing and uplifting. Seeing how they plan ahead, and how they tackle the problems was very insightful. I have learned a lot about their day-to-day challenges, and it was extremely rewarding to see that their successful interventions are keeping Blickling Estate dry and safe.

I have always been a huge fan of the National Trust model, especially as it is a charity. In Egypt, monuments are run by the state, so our efforts as a civil society organisation taking care of a monument is a first.

Such relationships build future friendships and I hope our two palaces will continue to grow together in the future as there is so much, we can learn from one another.

Having colleagues like Heather and her team on our side gives us access to a field we are still exploring. We are eager to learn from their stories and be inspired. It was exciting to find some Egyptian links, and of course our trip to the pyramid/mausoleum was the grand finale of my visit.
- Omniya Abdel Barr, Head of Development, Egyptian Heritage Rescue Foundation

Collaboration at work

Imogen Wood, Senior National Consultant – Heritage & Climate, National Trust

It was absolutely fantastic to benefit from visiting Blickling with Heather and Omniya. Climate change means the buildings of our past will now suffer the effects of a rapidly warming climate. More water can be held in the warmer air which leads to heavier rainfall, requiring us to keep buildings such as these resilient and in even better condition than before.

Twinning our properties with those suffering the effects of climate change and the impacts on historic fabric can help demonstrate that climate impacts are happening everywhere. With our audience of over 5 million members, we can help people to understand the impact climate change is having on places that they love, so they may feel moved to take climate action and help lessen the effects of climate in the medium term. This should be part of all our jobs, and it was so great to see the hard work the team at Blickling has already done under Heather’s leadership.

Where we can adapt our approaches and accept change that might be necessary, we should start sharing and learning from these examples as others can benefit from the living lab of sites, we have both here and across other global national trusts such as EHRF.
- Imogen Wood, Senior National Consultant – Heritage & Climate, National Trust

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