NECT logo
NECT is an NGO based in the north of England. It has existed for over 50 years ( It does many different things: it provides advice and support for community groups, municipalities and professionals on conservation; it has education programmes with schools, colleges and universities; it delivers traditional skills training; it provides project management for historic building projects; it acquires, restores and re-uses historic buildings and sites. NECT usually works in partnership with local bodies. Graham Bell trained as an architect but has been director of NECT for over 20 years. NECT has a team of 6 with a range of professional expertise from finance to project management to education. It owns 7 historic buildings and sites including a large country house, a former town hall, two water mills and a farm that has a Roman fort within a World Heritage Site. It has a track record of raising funds for projects and programmes including EU programmes. NECT is a long-standing member of Europa Nostra (; Graham Bell is on its Council. He is involved in a wide range of European cultural heritage networks and regularly presents at international conferences (8 in the last 6 months from Finland to Greece). His main interest is central and south east Europe, including collaboration and post-graduate teaching in Hungary over 25 years. Involvement in Slovenia began in 2013, leading to this project.

ENtopia in Slovenia: a mission of hay-racks and alpine communities

A painting by Ivan Grohar, The Sower, is an icon of the Slovene national spirit. [1] The Sower is in a high mountain pasture whose backdrop is a hay-rack which in itself is symbolic of the country and its agricultural character. It is the inspiration and a subject of this project.

This ENtopia project has its origins twenty years ago, begins with an anniversary celebration, and looks at the future for Slovenia’s remote alpine villages. Their landscape may be breathtakingly beautiful, but their livelihood and communities are vulnerable. Being part of ENtopia will enable them to share their experiences with others across Europe facing common hopes and fears.

 ‘Slovenski Kozolec’: the Slovene hayrack – a celebration

The Slovene Hay-Rack ranges from a single set of rails between two posts and topped with a diminutive roof, to full-scale buildings of substantial proportion and exuberant decoration. All share the handicraft of wood skilfully worked; all exhibit subtle variations that are the signature accent of a specific valley or community.

The beginnings of the efforts to save the Slovenian hayracks reach back to 1993, when the first documentary hardcover, with Slovene and English text by Dr. Tone Cevc and photographs by Jaka Čop, was published by AGENS in Žirovnica, Slovenia. [2] A year later the book was followed by a scholarly collection of drawings and precise architectural models of some of the best examples of the varied typology of hayracks executed by the architect Boran Hrelja. The exhibition of the models has thus far been presented over 121 times to great acclaim in both professional circles, as well as among friends of Slovenian heritage. [3] The book and exhibition together have inspired the formation of the civil initiative to preserve the hayracks as a unique and indelible part of the Slovenian cultural landscape. The initiative was formally established on December 12th, 1996 in the village of Rut and has swiftly proceeded to galvanize support amongst numerous owners and policy makers to save and restore over 200 hayracks. [4]

The 20th anniversary of the Slovenian Hayrack initiative will be marked by a serious of events, lectures, exhibitions, as well as meetings and social gatherings under the hayracks within and outside of Slovenian borders. [5] The Slovenian Hayracks initiative and the Kultura-Natura Slovenia organization wish to extend an invitation to other interested heritage organizations to come together and celebrate the unique heritage that the hayracks exemplify.

The project ‘Slovenian Hayracks’ is co-ordinated by the heritage movement Kultura-Natura Slovenia which will celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the initiative, beginning in December 2016 in the village of Rut. Kultura-Natura Slovenia is collaborating with North of England Civic Trust, attracting a grant from the Headley Trust – its first in Slovenia.

The villages of Rut and Grant in the high alpine meadows above the Bača Valley in Tolmin Municipality, North West Slovenia.

The valley of Bača, called Baška Grapa in Slovenian, is a narrow Alpine valley, running about 30km along the river of the same name, at the southern edge of the Julian Alps. The local name of Baška Grapa does not denote only the valley itself, but also the rugged and picturesque mountainous landscape that rises to the north of the river valley proper, connecting the ridges of the mountains over Bohinj to the north and Cerkljansko hills to the south. The mountainous ridges do not exceed the height of 2000m above sea level, but the terrain is uniquely varied, at times steep, and broken with numerous Alpine faults, and canyons which veer from the main river valley, dotted with old villages which can be also found on the slopes, close the mountain pastures and ancient farm-land.

The dynamic terrain is the result of the geological and petrographic diversity which can be found in a relatively small area. The main bedrock mostly consists of various limestone and dolomite minerals, which have been exposed to the erosion from the waters of river Bača and its tributaries. The water carved its way through the soft limestone and created distinct slopes with an average slant of up to 35 degrees. The rugged terrain of the valley was also shaped by the melting glaciers, which have retreated in the last glacial period, to leave behind sedimentary deposits and areas of flat terrain, which has served as the basis of much of human settlement of the area in later times.

The climate of the Bača valley is as diverse as its terrain. In the northern and eastern parts of the valley the climate is typically Alpine with harsh winters, while the western part of the valley enjoys a milder climate, tempered by the vicinity to the Adriatic Sea. The extreme southeast part of the valley, however, is more prone to the variants of the continental climate with mild to hot summers and cold winters. The average rainfall is about 2000 millilitres per square metre in a year, with long winters, which can bring heavy snow, particularly at altitudes greater than 1000m.

The history of the settlement of the area goes back likely as far as the Iron Age, but is documented in the time of the expansion of ancient Rome, when the hills and valleys of the area were an important source of iron ore. Bu the real start of permanent settlements is the start of mediaeval colonisations in the 13th century. The valley and its 24 different settlements, most of which lie high in the hills over the river, were a truly remote place to live, well into the late stages of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, when the building of the first railroad link between Jesenice and Trieste was completed in the year 1906.

Between 1218 and 1251 he Aquileian patriarch Berthold colonized the mountainous area with serfs from Innichen in Pusertal in South Tirol. The first settlers established the villages of Rut and the nearby Grant, and later spread around neighbouring hills all the way to Sorica. The area is thus a place of particularly Germanic heritage amidst the predominantly Slovenian environment. The most telling is the still preserved immaterial heritage ranging from the peculiar archaic dialect, local place-names (eg. Deutsch Ruth = Rut), various folk songs and customs, particular approaches to farming practices, as well as impressive and particular vernacular architecture and built heritage.

[6] The village of Rut is the oldest amongst the various villages above the valley, and still a sort of centre for the area. The village life has always been centred on the mediaeval church of St.Lambert. It is estimated that in the time of reformation in the 16th century the villagers planted the great linden tree next to the church. It still stands and flowers every year, and is one of the oldest linden trees in Slovenia; the circumference of the tree is 7.96m, and it reaches the height of 23m. It has traditionally been a place for meetings of the village elders, where important matters were discussed and justice dispensed by the magistrate, named colloquially as »Rihtar«.

The people of Rut still gather under the ancient linden tree to honour their roots and keep alive their customs and traditions, so it is appropriate that the ENtopia project begins by assembling under the tree [7]. The village, which has a population of 60, is facing a demographic decline and an exodus of young people in search of work elsewhere. Those who remain attempt at maximising the local potential and heritage to best effect – there have been initiatives in establishing tourism and hiking, promoting the unique heritage, both the built environment and technical heritage of the past, and establishing sustainable mountain farms which can support smaller communities and educate the younger generations.

All the villages in the Bača valley, and Rut in particular, are excellent examples of a special variety of vernacular architecture, which has its roots in the typical Tirolean architecture of the Alps. This uniqueness is evident both in residential as well as farm buildings. The particular feature of the local architecture are the monumental hay-racks that are typical of the entire Slovenian area, but which take a special form with monumental stone pillars in the village of Rut. They represent a particular type of endangered vernacular heritage, and so it is understandable that it was exactly this place that saw the beginning of the Slovenian-wide heritage initiative to preserve, save and promote the hayracks in 1996. The initiative today is a grassroots movement that connects over six hundred owners of the most important Slovenian hayracks, most of them still farmers, who tend to the structures in their original context, as well as over one hundred cities and municipalities, as well as architects, heritage professionals and enthusiasts who all work tirelessly to ensure the pride of place of the hayrack structures in the Slovenian cultural landscape.

The Rut part of the ENtopia project is concentrating on a disused house/bank-barn as the focus for testing revitalising the economy through education and traditional skills. It will involve collaboration between the community of Rut-Grant, Tolmin Municipality and North of England Civic Trust.

The ENtopia project


Slovenian hay-racks project

  • celebrate in December 2016 at Rut the 20th anniversary of the hay-rack book, with an update on the state of the nation’s hay-racks, an updated exhibition, a booklet/newspaper publication about the changes in the last 20 years (good and bad);
  • identify which hay-racks are most vulnerable now, record them and develop proposals with owners and communities to repair them;
  • collaborate with North of England Civic Trust acting as mentor and advisor on project management, and as supporting partner in the ‘ENtopia’ programme;
  • embody the above in participation in the new Europa Nostra ‘ENtopia’ programme, in which the theme will be the sustainability of an historic agricultural landscape through relevance to new generations, setting out a plan of action over the next three years.


  • explore how to reverse the population and economic decline of Rut, and attract some investment and new life appealing to young generations;
  • explore how to reuse the disused building and hay-racks for the benefit of the community and to contribute to the economy; [8]
  • prepare a short conservation statement of history and significance within the village;
  • consider a business case for a field centre about rural skills – agriculture, horticulture, forestry, land management, tourism, traditional hand crafts and foods (Rutarşki Želodček), as well as building skills such as those needed on the hay-racks, buildings and heritage engineering.

Over the next three years

Slovenian hay-racks project

  • new tourism information to encourage visitors to appreciate this distinctive cultural asset;
  • encourage an apprenticeship or similar training programme for young people to take up the skills needed to repair and maintain hay-racks;
  • develop the youth project for the vigenjc in Kamna Gorica allied to preparing a plan for its conservation and interpretation.


  • using the information in the first stage, apply for and if successful, use funds for repair and fitting out of the building and hay-racks as skills training and community opportunities, not just their re-use when complete;
  • productive re-use is an opportunity for people to learn. Create employment and help people to develop skills to find jobs. The project would be a tourism attraction for working holidays and study visits from other countries and other parts of Slovenia;
  • a study centre could provide accommodation and facilities to learn. Local people could be volunteer helpers or employed on the project. The centre’s catering facility would offer local produce supplied by residents and a subsidised social centre for older residents;
  • the project would prioritise young people: locals through employment, and students on courses;
  • make Rut more accessible for visitors and to provide residents with improved access to essential services, promoting green education and tourism.


web page (in Slovenian):

web page for Slovenian Hay-Rack project:

contact information of the Slovenian Hayrack Project:


Kropa 72


Telephone number: +386 70 554 232