IHBC Yearbook 2014

14 Y E A R B O O K 2 0 1 4 OUR VIRTUOUS CIRCLE SEÁN O’REILLY, IHBC DIRECTOR It’s been the usual dramatic 12 months at the IHBC, and if your insights into our work begin and end with a skim through our Yearbook introductions, you might well be surprised at just how far we have come in the last year. For a preview, you can rush to the end of this article, but do remember that our achievements are mostly rooted in tough decisions made a decade and more ago. That process of forward planning is at the heart of this review. The idea of a national office as an executive arm of the IHBC, rather than simply administrative support, was seriously mooted from the start of the new century as the next critical step after securing our charitable and corporate credentials as the IHBC. Despite huge economic and sectoral pressures since the start of the national office in 2005 – pressures ranging from chaos in heritage legislation to economic catastrophes – we have not only consolidated our operations but extended our reach and services. Today, while we could not describe our circumstances as rosy, at least the discussions at our ruling council are focussed more on what we do next, rather than on whether or not we will survive the year, as was the case when I first arrived. The forward planning that got us here – hard though it was when capacity, operating environment and policy support have been so variable – is now bearing fruit, not least in new benefits to our members and sector. Much of our recent success derives from the hard work and diligence of our volunteers and partners as well as our staff and consultants. Collectively, we have delivered services that members continue to find attractive and good value, and all to a standard and consistency that belie the limited human and financial resources available to us. For example, the 2013 Annual School in Carlisle, on skills, delivered splendid sector training and networking, as confirmed by the positive feedback in the delegate survey. Carlisle did all that and more, and at a price that could not have been achieved without substantial voluntary support from our North branch and, in particular, the hero of the programme, Richard Majewicz. Our core value resides in our members and our volunteers. SECTOR-DEFINING RESEARCH We have also seen a step-change in our services. For example our research projects increasingly deliver independent and – critically – suitably informed understanding of the sector, and much more widely than had been the case. Previously, correcting misinformed statements in poorly managed and delivered heritagesponsored research by others was the norm. Increasingly, we are now asked to do the analysis for clients ourselves. That was the case, for example, with our report on skills in England’s conservation services, and in our scoping report on the operations and capacity of those services in Scotland. The survey of conservation services in Scotland, generously supported by Historic Scotland, was groundbreaking as it allowed us to delve more deeply into conservation practice than had been possible in our data-gathering in England or our data analysis in Wales. Based on that research, we were able to make some fundamental statements on how the services work, or might work, both efficiently and effectively: • by partnering with planning services • by being focussed on sustainable outcomes achieved by skilled practitioners • by delivering huge benefits despite minimal investment Sadly, progress in local government in all of these areas is threatened by a lack of succession planning due to poor investment. That survey of Scottish conservation services was in itself just a small part of the suite of conservationdefining research that we continue to generate. And that research is still just a small part of our work on the ground, covering philosophy, practice, standards, training, policy, advocacy and networks. INFRASTRUCTURE We have been able to achieve so much on the ground because we looked ahead in planning our operations, employing Fiona Newton in her role as Projects Officer and James Caird in consultations. Their work built on earlier consultancy partnerships (they are so much more than services) including Peter Badcock and Joanna Theobald in IT, Rob Cowan for Context and those with Cathedral Communications for our publications and, through Lydia Porter, administration. More recently, from voluntary roles, we now have Bob Kindred supporting our research, Alison McCandlish on NewsBlogs, and Carmen Moran on membership services. That is a long list of names, so it’s probably worth remembering that it still only represents about four full-time posts. Our actual employee numbers, two, still put us in spitting distance of ‘sole trader’ status. Seán O’Reilly (left) and fellow delegate Torsten Haak on an annual school study tour