Chair of The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) Mike Brown has announced the launch of IHBC’s new research, funded by English Heritage, into conservation skills in local authorities, saying: ‘Despite the recent cuts to conservation services in local authorities research by the IHBC has shown that the skills of those conservation staff still working in local authorities are substantial.’
Mike Brown continued: ‘Our research has shown that Conservation Officers are often very highly qualified for their work, with each having, on average, two graduate or post graduate degrees. Additionally each is a member of more than one professional body, with more than 80% being members of the IHBC.’
‘A number of crucial skills were identified and the standard of knowledge in many of these key areas was found to be high. Those areas of very high skill level included conservation philosophy, standards of practice, legislation, policy, heritage at risk and repairs to historic buildings. But both staff and users agree that support is needed in some areas to develop skills and that conservation services need improved access to relevant training. Given that we found that only 26% of conservation officers are allowed time off to attend training courses, clearly some creative thinking is needed about how this is to be done.’
The data upon which the report is based was gathered through looking at the skills and qualifications of 580 conservation post-holders in England and an open web based survey. This was targeted at conservation specialists and other officers in local authorities but also at external service users, to assess the conservation skills currently available to local authorities and how strong these are considered by both the conservation specialists and those who they work with or advise. The report also fed into English Heritage’s annual publication Heritage Counts which looked at heritage skills.
IHBC Education Secretary David McDonald said: ‘The research helps us understand the skills which are essential for conservation services to carry out their work and identifies where gaps in these skills may exist. The challenge is then for all those involved, especially those providing training opportunities, to establish how to develop those weaker skills and by what methods. The areas where skills development is needed are wide ranging from modern processes such as economics and project development to the more technical aspects of condition assessment and ‘green’ skills.’
The research also showed that conservation specialists, despite their experience and qualifications, are often at a low level of internal seniority with 63% being at Senior Officer level or below. However despite this lack of organisational status their contact with Councillors and political influence is good with 73% of conservation services having regular contact with their Councillors. With knowledge of the conservation specialist and their work Councillors are more able to make informed decisions on historic building applications and on Council owned property, support conservation services and advise members of the public.
For the full IHBC skills report see: LINK