Heritage Skills Training in Sierra Leone

Ms Ester (left) and Ms Isatu Smith (right) outside a Krio Board House, a traditional style of architecture in Freetown. This is the house that the students will be working on during this Commonwealth Heritage Forum Skills Training Programme. Ms Ester lives in the house and Ms Isatu Smith is Managing Director of West Africa Heritage Consultants, who are delivering this programme with us. Isatu has said the work on this house will "develop the crafts skills that are the technology of remembrance, showcasing and celebrating local culture. This is your history, your heritage, and your traditional way of life that is at risk. We pray for even more collaborative engagement".

As part of our Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Heritage Skills Training Programme we have just started delivering an exciting programme of practical works with West Africa Heritage Consultants in Freetown, Sierra Leone. Students from Freetown Polytechnic, architecture students of Fourah Bay College and staff of the Ministry of Works and Public Assets will begin conservation work on one of the city’s Krio board houses, a type of traditional architecture of outstanding cultural value.

The architectural influences embodied by the Krio houses bear testament to the efforts of early settlers to establish a unique form of housing influenced by their experiences in the West Indies and Nova Scotia, yet many are at risk. Their condition today varies, and their conservation has been compromised by neglect, limited resources, lack of data and expertise.

With £70,000 funding from the Commonwealth Heritage Forum, the heritage skills training programme begins to redress these issues. Under the careful guidance of Historic Buildings Consultant Nathan Goss, students and staff will learn practical skills on a live project. The skills they will develop will not only benefit this building but equip them with the knowledge and expertise to restore other important historic buildings across the country.

Nathan Goss (left), Historic Buildings Consultant, measures up on site ahead of the students arriving. Nathan has also been coordinating the delivery of the necessary tools and materials, so students can carry out the necessary works on the house, which will include weather proofing the roof, work on timber framing, sash window restoration, and fine carpentry on decorative wood details. Victoria Hellewell (right), Training and Skills Consultant passing through the ventilated entrance stairwell of this beautiful house.

Trainees will learn how to record the structure, select the correct repairs, mark out and use authentic timber joints and make informed decisions about how to retain as much of the original fabric as possible, while understanding about interventions using modern materials.

The preservation of historic buildings and sites in Sierra Leone is central to its national identity and of vital importance for a sustainable future. This programme goes beyond simply safeguarding heritage sites but seeks to renew their significance for our present time. Tourism is a challenge but  also a huge opportunity in Sierra Leone and heritage buildings can be harnessed to promote sustainable tourism.

Philip Davies, the Founder and Chief Executive of the Commonwealth Heritage Forum said:

“48% of the population are under 30 years old, and almost two thirds of the entire population live in poverty. We are delighted to be able to help train young people in heritage skills to give them an opportunity to acquire life-changing skills and the potential for future employment, while helping them save the heritage that they value”.

Nathan Goss, Historic Buildings Consultant:

“The first thing I noticed when I saw this beautiful house was how similar the architecture is to the chattel houses on Barbados, albeit on a much larger and grander scale. The trainees will have a challenge on their hands as there is much to do and a good range of skills to be shown, from rough framing work to fine joinery”.

Mayor, Freetown City Council:

“The Krio houses are a key part of our city’s identity and they should be protected and celebrated. The Commonwealth Heritage Forum and West Africa Heritage Consultants have partnered with Historic Buildings Specialist Nathan Goss to conserve a Krio house, delivering practical training for students and staff from Freetown. This is a fantastic opportunity for heritage and people in Freetown, Sierra Leone”.

Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs:

“Investing in our heritage and young people is a priority for Sierra Leone. We welcome this project from the Commonwealth Heritage Forum and West Africa Heritage Consultants in Freetown and we hope that many more will follow”.

Condition of the house and the forward works programme: 

The opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Heritage Forum and West Africa Heritage Consultants Heritage Skills Training, Freetown, Sierra Leone: 

 

The opening ceremony for the programme was held at the Freetown City Council building and was attended by the Minister of Tourism and Cultural Affairs, the Mayor, the deputy Mayor, and representatives from the Ministry of Works and Public Assets and Tertiary and Higher Education. Speakers also included the president of Fourah Bay Architecture College, Freetown Polytechnic, the Sierra Leone's Institute of Engineers, and the Monuments and Relics Commission. The President of the Krio Descendant Union spoke about the importance of the Krio Board Houses for the identity of all Sierra Leoneans.

The Chairman of the Monuments and Relics Commission said:

"This programme is a wonderful endeavour, not only for what it proposes to do in the moment, but for its lasting impact. Conserving our heritage has the potential to transform the development trajectory of this country. The past is a lighthouse towards our future".

The Mayor:

"I am so excited about this programme because it aligns with our mission and the government's development blueprint. Our 2024–28, 'Transforming Freetown, transforming lives' focusses on bolstering heritage tourism, job creation, and the digital economy. This programme directly supports these first two important categories".

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