30 months, that is the period that the partners of Innocastle had not met ‘in person’ due to the Covid-19 measures. On Tuesday the 26th of April 2022, the partnership came back together in the beautiful city of Bruges to kick off the study visit to rural estates and castles in West and East Flanders. The long delay of the visit into the second phase of the project turned out to be a blessing in disguise because it felt like a real treat to visit all these beautiful places and hear the inspiring stories of progress that all the partners, despite Covid-19, made on their Local Action Plans in the past two years.

The visit to the provincial estate park Bulskampveld on Wednesday the 27th of April showed how a regional approach contributes to the activation and positioning of a large green historic area into an important place of agriculture and leisure between Bruges and Gent. The relevance of this estate landscape for citizens and visitors is growing every day. Also, the visit to Poeke estate showed how relevant the involvement of governmental organisations is in maintaining and revitalising rural estates. 

Visit Flanders, the Flemish Department for Tourism, has developed a new tourism policy and is acquiring different historical sites, among them Poeke estate, as part of a new narrative for the area. Involvement of ‘passionate communities’ consisting of locals and other committed communities is a key element in this policy.

Visits to privately owned estates Lakebossen, Menas and Bellem showed the different approaches that private owners give to their estates. Lakebossen is looking for a new future for the estate while dealing with local policies that do not always support the plans of the estate. Whereas Bellem estate finds new functions through experimenting and research. In the meantime, it hosts a Ukrainian family. A workshop on a more than human approach, taking into consideration nature and all lifeforms, created interesting ideas for this estate. Menas is a beautiful example of turning an estate into a place for quiet and simple retreat for target groups that normally do not have the possibility to visit these beautiful places.

The field visit underlined the effect of Innocastle on local policymakers. The Flanders Heritage Agency was delighted about the constructive and decisive effect of the Innocastle project on designing the new regional Heritage Masterplan. During the partner meeting, other partners demonstrated the positive influence that the exchange of experiences within Innocastle has had on their regional situations and policies.

A full report of the study visit can be found here. 

We look forward to sharing all the positive experiences and lessons learned during the final conference of Innocastle in Alba Iulia, Romania on 31st of August 2022. More information following here.