The Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association has initiated a project aimed at preserving and renovating the old traditional miners’ houses in Idrija. Idrija is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and its miners’ houses are an essential element of the heritage value contained in the area. Yet, many of them remained empty and in a deteriorating state. When the initiators found out that the local community perceived the historic structures as a burden, they started to look for ways to turn them into an opportunity. A project was started to renovate the houses in a traditional and environmentally sustainable fashion as part of the solution to the local housing crisis. This is combined with activities to create awareness around the heritage value of the miners’ houses, and education about heritage preservation and renovation.
Idrija is the oldest mining town in Slovenia and was once the world’s second-largest mercury mining site. Nowadays, the town is a UNESCO World Heritage site whose historical and architectural landscape has a particularity specific to the town’s heritage: its miners’ houses. These houses, typical of Idrija, present a unique architecture that reached the height of its popularity between 1776 and 1876. They were residential houses, built by the miners to house their own families, as well as others’. A single house could be inhabited by more than 20 people. Despite a lot of the houses being demolished after World War II, some remain as a testament to Idrija’s cultural and industrial past. In 2018, 102 miners’ houses were recorded in Idrija. As they have been heavily modified, only 18 have retained more than five traditional characteristics. Only 8 of those are still inhabited. About half of the 102 houses are empty. 
With the project on the miners’ houses, Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association and ID20 Institute aim to preserve and renovate Idrija’s historical architectural heritage by engaging and involving the local community in the renovation process. In doing so, the project provides a solution to the shortage of living accommodation in the town. The project is focused on the preservation and documentation of heritage, as well as on educating the local community about its heritage and sustainable building methods. As part of the project, Idrija’s miners’ houses are documented. A website showcasing the residential heritage of Idrija has been set up and a catalogue on the residential blocks of flats built by the Idrija Mercury Mine has been developed. Educational activities on local residential heritage, like school workshops and exhibitions, are conducted. Two writers were hosted in one of the miners’ houses as a writer in the residence programme. An architectural walk through the town has been established and an urban game has been developed, through which visitors learn about the miners’ houses while using their smartphones to complete challenges. The project also provides architectural consultations to owners of miners’ houses. All these activities are contributing to a renewed appreciation and utilisation of local heritage. [1;4;6]
The Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association, created in 2012 by five young enthusiasts from the local community, is the main driver of this initiative. In order to prevent young people from moving away from Idrija, the association undertakes activities around strategic local development, entrepreneurship and heritage revitalisation. Over the years, more than 20 different projects have been conducted by the association, in cooperation with a wide range of partners, including for example local schools, community members and the European Solidarity Corps. Revitalising the miners’ houses is one of the projects initiated by the Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association, in cooperation with its sister organisation ID20 Institute. ID20 Institute, also led by local young professionals, aims to foster innovation in heritage. For this specific project, the association and ID20 Institute cooperate with the Municipality of Idrija and the cultural association ProstoRož. [1;3;7]
Part of the projects’ activities is co-financed by the European Union through the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the Republic of Slovenia within the Rural Development Program 2014-2020. In two separate tranches (2018 and 2020), approximately €81.000 of funding was received for the above-mentioned activities. In 2020, this took place in a consortium with the Idrija Municipal Museum, ProstoRož association, a local publisher and the Idrija Youth Centre.
Additionally, funding from the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning of the Republic of Slovenia enabled the organisation of additional architectural and funding counselling, as well as school workshops and exhibitions about the local residential heritage. In 2021, a group of international volunteers was hosted with support from the European Solidarity Corps. Support from these two sources totals approximately €30.000.
The owners of miners’ houses (members of the local community) provide their financial resources for renovating the miner’s houses under their ownership. They can avail of architectural and funding advice through the initiative. [4;5]
In 2021, Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association and ID20 Institute have applied for funding through the Centre for Creativity, a support organisation for Slovenia’s cultural and creative sector. If this funding is granted, further development of a business model related to providing tourist accommodation will take place. [2;8]
Council of Europe, Strategy 21 – Good practices: Idrija Miners’ Houses Renovations, Council of Europe, Culture and Cultural Heritage,available at: www.coe.int/en/web/culture-and-heritage/-/idrija-miners-houses-renovation, accessed on 22/10/2021
PIRH (2021),Brochure: Idrija Miners’ Houses: Your Home Away From Home?, available on www.id20.si/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/PIRH_brochure_15x15_kon.pdf, accessed on 22/10/2021
Youth Center Idrija, organisational website, available on www.mcidrija.si/mc-idrija/mci-sestavljajo/idrija-2020.html., accessed on 22/10/2021
Idrija Mining Houses, organisational website, available on www.rudarske-hise.si/, accessed on 22/10/2021
Youth Center Idrija, Renovations of Idrija mining houses II, www.mcidrija.si/program/projekti/pretekli-projekti/pirh-ii.html, accessed on 22/10/2021
ID20 Institute, Youth for Miners’ Heritage, available on www.id20.si/en/projects/youth-for-miners-heritage, accessed on 22/10/2021
European Heritage Days, Stories: Idrija: How the young are upgrading its heritage, by Matevž Straus (2019), available on www.europeanheritagedays.com/story/99cdb/Idrija-How-the-young-are-upgrading-its-heritage, accessed on 13/12/2021
Personal communication with Matevž Šlabnik, project manager at ID20 Institute and Idrija 2020 Youth Development Association, 18-01-2022