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05 July 2017

Rural Revival

Written by Published in Lifestyle

Young people across the EU are moving from villages to the cities, as they always have. In search of work and a better life, they leave unique, ancient crafts and skills dying, with no one to pass them on to. Now, thanks to the Green Village Programme, these skills are being revived, gifted from generation to generation and enjoyed by young people from all over Europe

I first drove up the mountain from Skarinou to Kato Lefkara, Kato Drys and Pano Lefkara 18 years ago, and 15 years ago our European Union Mobility Programme sent the first group of learners here. Their objective was to learn skills in the traditional Cypriot crafts of lacemaking and silversmithing. Our organisation, Grampus Heritage & Training, seeks out craft skills that are dying out in the United Kingdom but are still available to learn in other European states as part of our Cultural Sustainability Strategy. These lacemaking villages are world famous – Leonardo da Vinci came here and chose the altar cloth for Milan Cathedral, which he later used as the model for his painting, The Last Supper.

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Lefkara lace, or Lefkaritika, is now listed by UNESCO as an ‘intangible heritage under threat’. But a listing is not enough to save it. Around 20 years ago they stopped teaching Lefkaritika in Cypriot schools. All the lacemakers are now over 50 years old, with nobody aspiring to take their place.

In 2009, Grampus Heritage and partners, including Kato Drys Community Council, decided to do something about it. The Green Village programme was developed and supported (appropriately!) by the European Union’s Leonardo da Vinci fund administered by the Directorate-General for Education and Culture in Brussels. Green Village has been reported on before in the pages of Sublime; it was launched in Cyprus in January 2009 to promote rural sustainability, gather examples of best practice and produce university and college curricula for a new generation of European learners.

The ethos of the project was built around the four pillars of rural sustainability: Environmental, using local materials, handmade not machine-made, low-impact and low-carbon footprint; Cultural, drawing from past endeavours, with a traceable historical root but relevant in terms of today’s culture; Social, drawing communities together, involving them in intergenerational learning and the community promotion of unique local products; and Economical, generating income for market-demanded goods at a fair level for those expending the hours in production.

Green Village encouraged the subjective (and occasionally, objective) scoring of each type of sustainability from 1 to 10 – so 10 is fantastic, 1 is grim. The score can be applied to a process, a product or a village; Lefkaritika scored high in Environmental but fell down on Cultural, Social and Economical because it was moribund; young people had no interest, and the market for traditional tablecloths, place mats and antimacassars dwindles further year by year as fashions in home decor change.

What to do about it? The nine-country Green Village partnership looked at this issue among many others across rural Europe.

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An objective was formulated to develop new products in market demand and that involve young people – the two things are interlinked – that would involve working harder to pass on the skills. We embarked on a programme of trying to get Lefkaritika into fashionable clothes, looking at markets and also educating young people about life in the past to try to stimulate intergenerational interest and learning. Highlights of the 30-month project included . . .

Reliving the 1950s

Cypriots, Romanians, Bulgarians and British adults and youth ran activities; later, Slovakians emulated them. Young people joined craft clubs with retired pensioners (who had been their age in the 1950s), and a vintage fashion show was jointly planned and delivered. A local antiques dealer, Colin Graham from Cockermouth in Cumbria (UK), gifted original ‘ration books’ and 1950s meals were prepared and eaten. As an era, the 1950s were important because of the more sustainable lifestyle, ‘make-do-and-mend’ ethos and the fact that the 60-plus-year generation gap was very current – grandparents to grandchildren.

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Your Granny Can Fly (traditional textiles into fashion)

In Pano Lefkara, Cyprus, the Mayors’ office, local hotelier Anna Zobnina, Nicosia artists and pleumistras (lacemaker in Cypriot Greek), together ran a five-country fashion event in the streets of the village. New garments were made incorporating Lefkaritika; others were vintage and still more were upcycled. The event caused a big stir, and heralded four more such events over the next three years. Cypriot Sigma Television featured the event and photos appeared in the local and international press. For the first time we felt as if we were being taken seriously. Pleumistras started to want to use Lefkaritika on clothes – the breakthrough was with Panayiota Demetriou, who ran a lace and silver shop in Kato Lefkara; Yiota led the way and others followed. Turkish Cypriot lacemakers joined in, adding a ‘sewing for peace’ and bi-communal element. Importantly, young people began to show an interest.

One- to four-week training courses in Lefkaritika (a combination of cut threadwork and embroidered lace)

Under the Green Village strands Applying Ancient Skills and Empowering Communities, we developed one- to four-week training courses – some for teachers and some for students, to teach the process of Lefkaritika but also to explore design ideas and focus on the role of introducing traditional textiles into fashion from a community empowerment standpoint. Part of this process was a collaboration with Sublime Magazine to engage with a group of London fashion colleges and universities led by Central Saint Martins, in order jointly to offer international training through the EU Leonardo da Vinci programme (and now in Erasmus Plus). To date, more than 70 students and 15 trainers have accepted that offer and completed training, with some great results and much innovation.

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We also planned the opening of a Green Village Shop that sold products that scored high on all four pillars of rural sustainability. Back in 2009–2010 that was still a dream, but in March 2016 that dream became a reality Led by Adriana Patkova from Lišov Museum (Green Village partner and venue for shop number two), Panayiota Demetriou, Kato Drys European Officer and a well-known pleumistra (lacemaker) and chief trainer, the deal was done, a shop was rented, stocked with sustainable goods from ‘green villages’ in the network and the doors opened.

Our stock focused on fashion that incorporates traditional textiles; bags and accessories made from undervalued textiles from ‘grandma’s bottom drawer’; retro 1950s dresses made by local villagers and vintage magazines and postcards. With her style, grace and charitable endeavours for UNESCO, Audrey Hepburn became our official mascot.

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image013After nine months of trading in Pano Lefkara, Green Village shops are planned in Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria and the UK, with the experience and support of Sublime Magazine Foundation (a Sublime team visited Bulgaria in December 2016).

Looking to the future, we need to promote the four pillars of rural sustainability and spread the Green Village message. There’s work to be done on branding and marketing. The rural revival is about sustainable local products, keeping crafts alive, recycling and reusing and creating jobs in villages – slowing down the outward migration of youth to the cities. The European Union still supports us through Erasmus Plus, and in 2016 we launched PRIDE – Partnership for Rural Improvement and Development in Europe – with 30 partner organisations, Sublime Magazine being one of them.

 

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