The Heritage Skills HUB - serious about traditional building skills


The Heritage Skills HUB - serious about traditional building skills

The Heritage Skills HUB has been promoting traditional building skills since 2009, and despite the publication of national reports in 2005, 2008 & 2013, little real improvement has been seen in the general knowledge about the construction of old buildings and how best to take care of them.

Why?  The answer is simple. Traditional building skills and materials no longer form part of mainstream construction teaching. Learning has focussed on new products, materials and techniques that have been developed since the Great Wars, and slowly but surely the old ways are being forgotten.

The problem

This is a curious situation, especially in recent years where the research has shown us that approximately 20% of the UKs building stock is considered ‘traditional’. 1919 is generally considered the benchmark year, so obviously that means that all those lovely Victorian and Edwardian terraces and townhouses, cottages and factories, are considered traditional and are generally hugely loved. However, many are also derelict or lacking in maintenance and/or sympathetic and appropriate development.

How often do we hear from the TV property shows that the client wants a house ‘with period features’? We know it sells, so why do we not ensure that new construction trainees and built environment professional undergraduates understand how they are made and how best to look after them? Why do the television shows not do more to educate home owners? In addition, the way people live in their houses can also cause problems such as damp, just as much as the application of modern or inappropriate materials.

With increasing awareness of sustainability, energy efficiency and low carbon targets, there is also a new urgency in educating everyone about the best way to improve traditional buildings. Poor retrofitting can not only lead to deterioration of the building fabric itself, but in some circumstances, also to the health of the occupants.

Although there are several registers of professionals accredited and qualified to work on traditional buildings (see ) there is currently no approved, accredited register of building contractors with experience, knowledge and expertise of traditional skills. Many contractors working on domestic traditional buildings have no idea about ‘breathability’, lime mortars, clay paints, sash window restoration or any of the other factors that relate to the building.

A skilled craftsperson is a rarity. Although there are now a number of training courses available, access to them is difficult as not many training providers offer them, and there is limited funding available. Finding courses is equally challenging, which is why the Heritage Skills HUB is continually adding to its information web ‘Training’ pages ( ) that provide a unique service which explains what qualifications are available, at what level, and where they can be accessed.

How can we look after period properties better?

The Heritage Skills HUB is a fabulous and much-needed resource, but it can only help so far. Surely it is time to re-introduce traditional materials & techniques into mainstream education, and perhaps even go as far as a national advertising campaign to raise awareness for the millions of home owners across the UK. If we educate, we empower and provide customer choice. In turn, we believe this can provide a greater understanding of our old buildings, a greater appreciation of the skill of the traditional craftsperson and ultimately encourage more young people into a career using traditional building skills. Most importantly perhaps, it generates a greater enthusiasm to do the right thing to ensure the sustainability and beauty of our lovely old buildings.

This article was written by Cathie Clarke, CEO, Heritage Skills HUB

Heritage Skills HUB-Midlands is a not-for-profit Community Interest Company. Its aim is to expand and develop opportunities for training and education in traditional building skills and conservation in the Midlands.  The Heritage Skills HUB addresses regional skills gaps and shortages and promotes appropriate training, education and careers for the existing and potential built heritage sector workforce. It is supported by English Heritage, the National Trust, National Heritage Training Group (NHTG), the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Building Limes Forum (BLF), the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and other heritage and building conservation organisations.  It also provides a valuable information portal through its website, which is enhanced by a lively social media presence.

Categories: Education, General, Preservation   Tags: tradesmen