IHBC Yearbook 2011

r e v i e w 33 Contractors and the Conservation Skill Set Simon Butler In recent years there has been an increasing and very welcome emphasis on the development of craft and construction skills appropriate to the development and maintenance of the historic buildings that form such an integral and vital part of our built heritage. Strenuous efforts have been made to improve this skills base and many training providers now offer courses on everything from limework to stonemasonry, historic brickwork to leadwork, dry stone walling to stone slating, all within the NVQ framework. In addition, the new Traditional Skills Bursary Scheme (www.buildingbursaries. org.uk) provides the opportunity for those employed in the mainstream construction sector to develop the skills required to work competently in the conservation sector. Finally, the launch of the Heritage Skills CSCS card under the ConstructionSkills Certification Scheme is also a welcome development, allowing conservation contractors to demonstrate their competence to work on historic buildings through a nationally recognised and accredited standard. These are all welcome, positive developments. However, there is perhaps a tendency to see the development of these skills as the solution to the problem of the inappropriate repair of pre-1919 buildings. This is, of course, not the case, but it is undoubtedly true that there is no one-size-fitsall solution to this problem. The problem with building conservation Like most conservation contractors, my company is called to work on a wide variety of projects. These range from turn of the century semis to timber frame houses, from medieval churches to 20th century colliery buildings and everything in between. We may be called upon to conserve these buildings in their original form or to change their use to something else entirely, installing new mechanical and electrical (M&E) services, or adding structural elements. Some of the buildings and sites that we work on are unprotected, relying only on our concern for old buildings to keep them from unnecessary harm, while others will be protected by legislation and by understandably suspicious conservation officers, mindful to ensure that we don’t compromise the building through poor workmanship, or worse. The term ‘building conservation’ conjures up mental images of repairs to ornate cathedral stonework, the conservation of historic ceiling paintings, or the consolidation of ornate decorative plasterwork, but in real terms this is only a fraction of what we do. Much of the work The scheduled Pleasley Colliery, Derbyshire: the skills required to repair and conserve the iconic steel headstocks, and concrete tub track are not perhaps ‘high conservation’ and do not easily fit into the conventional conservation mould.