More Traditional Craftspeople Needed Say English Heritage

By Caroline Lewis | 31 October 2007
report cover with a photo of young people involved in a workshop

Young people are needed to enter careers in traditional crafts. Courtesy English Heritage

English Heritage has put out a rallying call for the training of more craftspeople in traditional skills, crucial for the future protection of England’s historic environment.

The call for more craftspeople and heritage professionals is the central message of its sixth annual survey on the state of the historic environment, Heritage Counts 2007, published on October 31. The organisation also set out its plans for leading the way to ensure the country gets the thousands more craftspeople it needs to look after our fragile historic environment.

“The message from this year’s Heritage Counts on skills is clear,” said Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage. “There are a lot of really positive things happening on the ground, but the sector could, and indeed must, do a lot better.”

Speaking at the report’s launch in Greenwich, Simon Thurley explained that those parts of designated heritage that can be measured are in a better position than five years ago, but this masks the true picture of what is happening to undesignated and locally important sites.

Skilled craftspeople are central to tackling the problems faced by heritage and conservation areas, and will underpin the delivery of legal heritage protection reforms in the pipeline. While many skills training schemes are in place, for example the Heritage Lottery-backed traditional skills apprenticeships, there has actually been a fall in the number of trainees beginning in heritage related crafts in the last two years (13 per cent down).

shows a conservator removing paint from windows at the Royal Pavilion

Anne Sowden, glass conservator at work in the Royal Pavilion Brighton. Courtesy Royal Pavilion & Museums, Brighton and Hove

Regionally, the report highlighted the good work done in the North East, where the Historic Environment Forum Heritage Skills project has been working to plug the skills gap with popular taster days in techniques such as dry stone walling and using lime.

Local success story Leigh Murray, a 19-year-old dry stone waller from Wark, Northumberland, is featured on the front page of the regional report. She joined the Northumberland National Park Authority’s Traditional Boundaries Traditional Skills project, and now hopes to set up her own business because of it.

Yorkshire and the Humber has reduced its number of buildings on the At Risk register by a third since 1999, but many more masons, carpenters, glass and iron-workers are still needed to keep up the good work.

Other areas of concern highlighted in the report are the pressures created by housing growth in the South, the housing market renewal in parts of the North and climate change.

Mr Thurley announced three commitments from English Heritage for tackling the skills shortage. It will support local authorities and train elected local authority staff throughout the Heritage Protection Reform; with extra money from the recent spending review it will create a new three-year graduate heritage training programme; it will progress with actions set out in the Inspired! campaign for historic churches, for example extending the successfully piloted Historic Churches Support Officers.

Photo of a thatcher working on a roof

Traditional construction skills such as thatching need more trainees. © 24 Hour Museum / Richard Moss

“The next three years will be a challenging but exciting time for all of us in the sector,” he said. “We need to take up the opportunities that heritage learning offers; we need to focus on the absolutely essential issue of craft and professional skills and we need to prepare ourselves for the arrival of the new Heritage Protection system.”

“In doing these things we will be transforming the way we think about our heritage and breaking down old and artificial boundaries to ensure that the past plays a positive role in enhancing the world we live in today.”

Mr Thurley also announced a new programme similar to Buildings at Risk, to begin in 2008. Heritage at Risk will report of all nationally designated heritage assets at risk, such as conservation areas, to help focus resources where they are needed. In addition he called on the heritage sector to redouble its efforts with young people to ensure a sound foundation for the care of the heritage in the future.

Heritage Counts is prepared by English Heritage on behalf of the Historic Environment Review Executive Committee and the Regional Historic Environment Forums. The report, summary and regional reports can be found at www.heritagecounts.org.uk.

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