Times of Malta, 15 March 2009, by Claudia Calleja

Soon after landing at Malta International Airport, travellers may admire the restoration of a 16th century painting featuring the Madonna and Child that is being carried out at the airport’s arrival lounge.

The painting usually hangs above the altar at the church of Santa Maria of Bir Miftuħ in Gudja – one of the best preserved examples of a parish church of the 15th century that was entrusted to Din L-Art Ħelwa in 1970.

It is one of the 12 restoration works on historic sites that DLĦ is overseeing with the help of sponsors and volunteers who also help the heritage organisation cope with the ongoing restoration and maintenance of the 14 sites to which it holds guardianship.

Undoubtedly, it is at the forefront of the conservation and restoration of Malta’s cultural heritage.

Last year, DLĦ stepped up its spending on restoration projects to over €131,000, an increase of 21 per cent compared with the previous year.

It was no easy task for the heritage organisation as all funds are raised through volunteer activity and the generosity of individual donations, memberships and corporate sponsorships, organisation executive president Martin Galea said.

“The momentum gained in environmental awareness should not be slowed down even in the face of the current economic situation, as the spirit of volunteering remains the keystone that make the organisation’s mission possible,” he said, thanking numerous volunteers and sponsors for their help throughout the years.

Despite the fact that income from properties and fundraising activities decreasing by five per cent in 2008, projects remained ongoing last year and many are expected to be concluded this year.

Significant funding was dedicated to the restoration of the recently acquired extension to Din l-Art Ħelwa’s headquarters in Melita Street, Valletta, where a corner premises in Old Bakery street adjoining the current offices was acquired.

This corner had suffered extensive war damage and, with dedicated funding from the legacy of one of Din L-Art Ħelwa’s members, Carmen Micallef Buhagiar, it will provide a much needed reception area, extra office space, and meeting rooms.

DLĦ also set up partnerships with corporations, banks, businesses and local councils to oversee projects that would otherwise not be possible.

These included the restoration of the Tal-Ħniena Church in Qrendi. For this, Bank of Valletta pledged funding to carry out the first phase while the Russian Embassy provided funds for restoration of the imposing 19th century Von Sclippenbach Memorial at the Msida Bastion Garden of Rest.

Restauro Opere d’Arte, with the financial assistance of the Malta International Airport, started the restoration works on the Bir Miftuħ altar painting.

The Central Bank of Malta is underwriting the restoration of a group of niche statues in Valletta that are in dire need of salvaging and work is expected to start soon.

Other important projects include the restoration of the unique Church of Our Lady of Victories in Valletta where work to secure the frescoes provide a huge challenge due to the vast investments necessary.

The project to restore the external masonry was been made possible by Price Waterhouse Coopers.

Another project being carried out with Heritage Malta, is the conservation of the archaeological site and catacombs at Abbatija tad-Dejr in Rabat.

Meanwhile, restoration works onTa’ Ġordan Lighthouse, the Victory Church, Valletta, frescoes and the Buskett rural complex are expected to start once the necessary permits are issued.

Throughout 2008, DLĦ devoted much time and energy to the establishment of the Majjistral Park together with Nature Trust and the Gaia Foundation that were assisted by government funds.

In the meantime, landscaping, reinstating of rubble walls, and the clearing of the numerous rubbish dumps continue, while guided educational walks take place regularly.

HSBC and The Body Shop Foundation pledged sponsorships towards the park over the next three years and funds from the Tanner Trust went towards purchasing a Land Rover for a ranger to patrol the Foresta 2000 site at Mellieħa and prevent vandalism.