Starting this month, Giovanna Hammet will be working with the House Malta to curate articles about restoration, education in the household, and property management. Google and wikihow are great tools if you want to learn a little bit about, well, almost anything; but, but there’s nothing like having an experienced guide by your side to teach you the ropes.

From fixing furniture and manually doing up old places with her parents, to building her own school run by students, to nursing old jems in Bulgaria and then Malta, Giovanna’s timeline is a wibbly wobbly timey wimey web of experiences that, strung together, give you the best ingredients you could ask for in a teacher.

We’ve already collaborated on an article with Giovanna Hammet once before. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, take a look.

7 Important Considerations before Starting a Rental Renovation

Let’s get to the questions:

From headmistress to restorer to managing real estate in different countries, how does that happen?

Yes, I am straight out of Doctor Who! Teaching was a profession and houses a hobby for many years, now it’s the other way around.

As a child I used to “teach” my dolls; at 18, while at university, I joined a voluntary literacy programme to teach basic skills to illiterate adults, then did an MA in TEFL for, er, fun. I trained as a Montessori teacher when I left the theatre, did a PGCE in secondary teaching later and never looked back. Houses just grew on me and I took opportunities whenever I found them. I had to ignore a lot of naysayers though who were always forecasting doom and gloom but I stayed positive, took risks when necessary and just got on with it.

How did you move from building a school in the UK to restoring / doing-up property?

At the time I was the Principal of a teacher training college in London so I was seeing the, what was considered back then, “cutting edge” of education.  I decided to get a house and throw everything I had to turn into a school. Nowhere seemed to provide the kind of education I would have wanted for my own children (this was before I had my own).

If you can’t find it, you make it. I used the skills I had learnt from my parents and learned some new ones. To compress lots of years in two lines, once I had the school running at a level I was pleased with, it was time to move on to something new. I came to Malta and started restoring my own house while holding down a teaching job. After that I just couldn’t stop!

What was different about your school? We’re imagining Hogwarts here.

I believe children are driven to learn and most schools seem to get in the way of that because they are adult-led, more about training than education. I wanted to foster the innate desire to learn, not frustrate it by forcing the learning of specifics designed to fit you for a job. At the school, which went up to age 7, children also got to practice different artistic and functional instruments, learned skills such as gardening, basic tool use, furniture maintenance and polishing, and how to make and store food, and manage diet; they had normal language and mathematics classes too, of course, but they learned in an environment that belonged to them and was their responsibility to maintain and nurture.

I believe that child-led learning is much more valuable and lasting. Of course, it’s a setting that’s also harder to create because you have to a) trust the children and b) provide an environment in which they can thrive, but it’s worth it.

The utilitarianism of unchanging timetables, desks in a row and bare walls is a dead duck. Uniformity isn’t the key to growth, diversity is.

What’s one book you’d recommend to kids, and one book you’d recommend to parents?

The Narnia series for children and the Dispossessed by Ursula le Guin for adults, we all need books that make us think outside the box.

Let’s rewind, what was Giovanna’s childhood like? Did your parents push you towards becoming an educator, and what role did restoration and manual work play in your childhood?

My mother was a teacher and my father was a doctor so academia was always important to them, but I never felt pressured, just loved. My working life began with a theatre in education group, where I had to turn my hand to whatever task was required so there has always been a practical side to my nature. I’d learnt many DIY skills from my parents, who always bought houses in poor condition and then did them up themselves before moving on to their next home. We moved a lot, I went to 17 primary schools! Luckily I was sent to boarding school for my secondary years which provided some stability in my life.

Books and films have given me a dreary idea of boarding schools. How was it?

I loved every minute. It was in an area of rural beauty, we were well fed and entertained and learned a great deal of independence. And yes, we did have midnight feasts!

For how many years did you teach / work in education? What are two memories you like to share from this time?

I’m still teaching whenever I get the opportunity, if it’s in you its a thing you can never stop, even if not in a formal educational setting. Breakthroughs with struggling children are always memorable, so I will never forget the 7 year old Swedish child who took 3 years to learn to write, or the 10 year old English child who was able to put his aggression aside and trust me enough to finally learn to read, but all teaching is a great pleasure to me and I recall all students with great fondness.

Of the places you restored, which is your favourite?

An old farmhouse in Balzan. It was in a perilous state, with some collapsed roofs, rising damp and no plumbing or electricity, but it did have many charming old features such as beautiful stone carvings, timber beams, ktieb and xorok, traditional tiles and cangatura floors we were able to save. It’s now a beautiful modern home that’s a delight to enter and a pleasure to live in.

What would your pet say about you if we asked for a reference?

“She’s a big softy”

Property restoration took you to Bulgaria, how was that different from the UK?

During the communist era the young people moved into the towns and cities to work in the burgeoning industries. After its collapse they didn’t want to return to their old fashioned villages. So now the older generation are dying off and the villages are becoming deserted. We wanted to bring life back to  some of these beautiful little places. Villages are self sustaining, all houses have huge gardens, there’s usually a shop or two and a cafe and a local council to supervise it all. We found the local mayor extremely helpful.Outside of the big towns and cities Bulgarian houses are very traditional and built to withstand the weather, which can be bitter in the winter. Bureaucracy doesn’t get in the way of restoring old properties and the costs are much lower.

What attracted you to Bulgaria, and what attracted you to Malta?

Malta is the land of my forefathers and I liked its small compact nature, where its possible to ”know of” almost everyone. Bulgaria, on the other hand, is a stunningly beautiful country with a great deal of undeveloped countryside. Their traditional style of living is also very pleasing, they have not lost sight of who they are, or sold their souls for money.

Which colours do you like to see together?

Purple and Green.

Likewise! It seems inevitable that small towns and villages are either urbanised or are abandoned by youths chasing the ‘big city’ dream, what are your feelings about this?

At least the abandoned ones leave something for future generations to come back to. Urbanisation is not always a bad thing but we need to learn to restrain ourselves and realise what we really value.

What was Giovanna like at school?

A chatterbox!

When did you move to Malta? In which ways do you see Malta as different from the UK and Bulgaria?

My father was Maltese so we visited frequently throughout my life, but we finally moved here to live permanently in 1997 because I wanted a safe place to raise and educate my offspring.

The UK enjoys and suffers all the proclivities of a large industrialised country and Bulgaria is still recovering from its communist past so Malta’s old world charm seemed a perfect alternative.

One positive and one negative way Malta is different now from when you first moved.

Joining the Eu has transformed Malta, we are now so much more connected and able to access many products and services that were unavailable or unaffordable before.

The loss of so many trees and architectural beauties to make way for wider roads or excessively large development is destroying the once beautiful landscape that made the country so attractive.

You let artists exhibit work in one of the places you have restored, Palazzo Ħamsa Mill, correct?

It’s location in Ħal Balzan, has some open space and lots of room to hang artworks, so I thought it’d be a suitable location for  for artists and artisans who want to exhibit work somewhere accessible. Anyone who is interested in showcasing their work is welcome to contact me – they shouldn’t worry about costs.

For more information, head to Palazzo Ħamsa Mill’s Facebook page.

One of the exhibitions held at Palazzo Ħamsa Mill

A six-year-old child asks you if Santa Claus is real… what do you say?

Yes! We should all believe in magic.

Our team at House Malta is always on the look-out for spaces, places, and things that are being built up, torn down, modernised, restored, or re-purposed – be it by a big team or a one-man(or woman)-army.

DO YOU HAVE A STORY, A PERSON, OR A PLACE IN MIND?

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