A delegation from Notting Hill Housing recently visited Romania, where we went to learn about housing, health and education, integration into Europe, social challenges, and issues for Romanians in the UK. After a couple of days in Bucharest we went to Slatina, a medium-sized town, on the River Olt, in the South of the country. The historic centre of Slatina has been sadly neglected as people moved out to more modern housing and leisure facilities. But it has such potential! We could imagine reinvigorating it, restoring the architecture, creating restaurants, bars, shops and homes. So we spoke about our experience at Notting Hill, and how not for profit housing associations work with local government and the private sector in the UK.
We also took some time to enjoy the wonderful food – all of it organic – and culture. In Slatina a Harvest Festival event was held while we were there. These young people wear the traditional costume of the area. The delicate blouse (essentially a T shaped garment) decorated with cross stitched embroidery, a fur-lined waist coat on the young man, and a striped apron on the young women.
Our delegation was led by Dr Ionela Flood, who works for Notting Hill Pathways. Here she is chatting to a lady who was demonstrating how traditional bread can be baked outdoors. I love the way the reds and oranges in her outfit harmonise so nicely. And Ionella looks lovely too.
The wearing of headscarves is a strong tradition in Romania, probably influenced by the Turks and other Arabic people who came to the area over the years, although the population is almost entirely Orthodox Christian. Younger women tie the scarves in a different manner. Again there is a pleasant harmony in the blues and greens chosen by this lady. You can see the bread oven to the right, and the three-legged stool, behind her.
We visited a newly built church, stunningly ornate with a mosaic ceiling of incredible richness. What was even more impressive, in a quieter way, was the underground chapel used for funerals. This intimate space was newly painted but in the traditional style. I particularly enjoyed this picture which warns what happens to those who don’t obey the will of God.
There is a large aluminium plant in the area, with a number of associated industries. At one factory where components for cars are manufactured we saw a robot dipping the pear-shaped vessels into the molten aluminium. I was transfixed by the shimmering pink colour of the element – so beautiful. But, hot as hell.
On our visit to a local school we were shown an exhibition the young people had put together on Romania’s communist past. The teachers, many of whom had been brought up in the Communist period, believed it was important for the young people to understand their own history. I found this outfit for a primary school age Young Communist rather touching with its hand stitched “Sabina”. No crafty embroidery here. Just 1970s synthetics and bright, hopeful orange.
What an interesting experience of contrasts – ancient religion in modern churches, Europeanisation plus distinct local customs and traditions, companies shifting from State control to private enterprise, the 15m Romanians who currently live abroad (compared to 20.1m in the country), but always keeping something of home in their hearts. What a brilliant experience. Thank you to the Mayor of Bucharest, the Mayor of District 2, and the City of Slatina. We look forward to working with you on housing, but in addition I hope our experience will inspire my textiles and dressmaking over the coming year.