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Businesses in Older Buildings

This section sets out the benefits of running a business from a historic building. It also explains what owning an older building for commercial use might mean for you as a landlord, business owner or small project developer. On this page:

If you run a business in an older building, make sure you know whether it's listed. This will affect the permission you will need to make alterations.

Post office and shop in a rural village
Post office and shop in an old commercial building in a rural village © Historic England

Why choose an older building?

The historic environment is an important part of economic production and activity. It provides premises for businesses, amenities and utilities. Many of the shops, restaurants, hotels, offices and industrial units within our towns and cities are located in pre-1919 traditional buildings. In 2011, the 138,000 businesses located in historic buildings in the UK, provided around 1.4 million jobs and contributed over £47 billion in GVA (HLF, 2013).

A recent survey of listed building owners found that 22% work from their property. Of these, 9% provided bed and breakfast or cottage rental accommodation and 7% were self-employed or running a business. For more information see our research into Heritage and the Economy .

Shop in a historic building in Lake District called Ruby shoes day
Traditional style timber frame shop front on a historic building © Historic England

Owning an older building

If you own a listed building or a building in a conservation area, there are things to consider which may be different from a modern building. This includes materials and construction as well as permission to make changes to your building.

Please see our other pages for more detailed advice on making changes to a listed building.

For general advice on owning a listed building, see our Guide for owners.

Taking care of your building

Follow our advice on looking after your building to ensure it keeps its value and continues to serve your business. Don't let small-scale issues become bigger problems - get on top of them while they're quicker and cheaper to fix. Minor works are also unlikely to be so obvious to your clients, to interrupt your business activity or put people off using the building.

The most important things you can do are:

The other pages in this section provide more specific information on issues to consider if you're a landlord, small project developer or business owner.

Buying a historic building

If you're considering buying an older building for business use, we recommend that you consider the following points:

  • Is the building listed?
  • Is the building in a conservation area?
  • Are there planning restrictions on what changes can be made to buildings in the area?
  • Are there restrictions on businesses in the area?
  • Do you need a structural survey? A full structural survey will provide information on a building’s materials and general condition.
  • How has the building changed over time? It makes sound economic sense to understand the condition of a property and its potential for change before buying it.

Some organisations, such as the Listed Property Owners Club and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), provide information on listed properties for sale. If you would like more information on where to find historic buildings for sale, please go to the following pages:

For more advice on managing vacant historic buildings, please see our guidance note.

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Also of interest...

  • Front elevation of houses on a street

    Making Changes

    Find out what permission you will need when making changes to older homes and see our advice on best practice.