Heritage Counts on Skills

It is vital to attract more young people into training for conservation craft skillsMany more skilled craftspeople and professionals are needed to tackle the challenges faced by England's historic environment. That's the stark message from Heritage Counts 2007, the sixth annual survey of the historic environment from English Heritage.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Chief Executive Simon Thurley said, "Although those parts of the designated heritage that we can measure are in a better position in 2007 than 2002, this masks the true picture, which includes what is happening to undesignated and locally important heritage and conservation areas". He added that skills were the key to tackling the main problems facing our heritage: dealing with difficult buildings at risk; erosion of the character of Conservation Areas; pressures of housing growth; housing market renewal; climate change and delivering heritage protection reform.

Good skills training schemes are already being run and funded by bodies like the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust. However, despite these efforts and action plans aplenty, not enough additional people are being trained - the number of apprentices and trainees starting in heritage related craft skills has fallen 13% in the last two years.

The challenges are not just in heritage craft skills, of course. Go round any new development and all too often the quality of buildings shows a skills gap in basic construction. Then there is a continuing shortage of experienced conservation officers to deal with proactive and regulatory work. Urban design is in the same parlous state.

Collectively these are the skills that are needed for the conservation and development of place making in our historic towns.

All credit then to Simon Thurley in announcing three initiatives to tackle the shortage: a new three-year graduate heritage training programme; support for training in local authorities to deal with the heritage protection review and additional resources for Inspired!, the campaign for historic churches.

That's welcome, but responding to the challenge in Heritage Counts will require local authorities and industry to invest directly in training. It's nice to get experienced staff off the recruitment shelf, but if the cupboard is bare it's time to plant some seeds and grow your own.

Brian Human,