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[EXP] Rural heritage restoration and community development : the experience of French associations « études ET chantiers »

Rural topic(s): (Agri)-tourisme et patrimoine rural

Type: Expérience réussie

Date of writing: 17 septembre 2011

Author(s) of this page: Denis Maier, UNAREC

Organization(s): études ET chantiers


« Etudes et chantiers Espace Central » is an association from Massif Central, member of a UNAREC national network, which builds bridges between young people and adults and encourage mobility, training and social integration through facilitation and planning collective projects run in rural and urban territories.


Background and organisation

The network’s general project is to make people become active citizens by transforming their living area. Each time we have a project of volunteering or social integration, we connect it to the local development project, to the local context and therefore to the local population. So a restoration project is built in constant link with :

  • local elected officials,

  • local population, who can train to traditional techniques,

  • groups of school children, for them to re-appropriate the local heritage,

  • local businesses, especially in the building sector, who are confronted with demand for traditional restoration know-how

  • heritage associations.


The experience which will now be presented is taking place in Orcines, close to Clermont-Ferrand. Orcines is a town composed of 15 villages sparsely located on the territory of the town. The local population is composed of newcomers in rural areas and of people who have been living here for long. The project aimed at restoring small local heritage (fountains….), which constitute a touristic potential as they are located on a hiking track. At first an international youth camp was organised, it then continued through a social integration programme (jobs for socially excluded people), which is a French scheme linked with state employment policies and supported by local authorities.The association has from the beginning integrated the local population to the restoration, it was a way to collect traditional knowledge and know-how, local art rules, and even sometimes some material, and this was a way to involve people with regard to the future use of the place.

Main results

This dynamic has constituted the starting point of further involvement. In many villages, heritage associations have been created. They all have been recognized by the municipality which provides financial support for their functioning. Today these associations work together within a committee and organise some events on rural heritage to which many people participate even from outside of the municipality. For the people who participated to the project, there is an actual social added-value because their role in this collective is enhanced. It has also contributed to an evolution of the way socially excluded people are perceived by others : they are not seen as inactive anymore or burden but as people who managed to bring back to life heritage which had been abandoned by the local community. Local population also tend to get more involved in community projects. Local tourism has brought a new dynamic for the local shops. House owners also pay more attention to their patrimony and realise more restoration works. And some businesses contact our association because they become more interested into traditional know-how. They take another stand on integration associations, while before they considered them as competitors taking their work.


However, public policy evaluation indicators of this type of project only take into account employment considerations, and not the impact of the project on local development. Whereas the project has shown that there was a direct link between the quality of the integration, its technical objective and its territorial impact. Sustainable development will not become effective if cannot only change our ways to make things but most importantly our perception.


Scale of intervention : Régional

Keywords: démarche collective, patrimoine rural, patrimoine culturel, dynamisation (empowerment) des communautés rurales

Places: France

Actors: association

Methods: chantiers (de jeunes), bénévolat, accompagnement de projet, éducation populaire