Photograph of elevation of Riding Stables

Wimborne St Giles Riding Stables, Dorset © Historic England, James O Davies, image reference DP166137
Wimborne St Giles Riding Stables, Dorset © Historic England, James O Davies, image reference DP166137

Unlocking Historic Buildings

This course addresses a direct demand from previous HELM delegates, who have indicated a need for further training in how to interpret and understand historic buildings. A combination of taught sessions and practical exercises will give delegates the tools they need to be able to interpret the development of buildings, define their significance and inform decisions about their repair and reuse.

Who should attend?

This event is an introductory course aimed at local authority conservation and planning staff that deal with case work affecting both listed buildings and undesignated heritage assets.

Why should you join this course?

This course addresses a direct demand from previous HELM delegates, who have indicated a need for further training in how to interpret and understand historic buildings. We are therefore working with an experienced conservation architect and trainer, who will introduce the following through a combination of taught sessions and practical exercises:

  • The interpretation of conservation principles
  • The difference between old and new buildings
  • Dating of buildings and the main architectural styles
  • Traditional construction methods and materials including a brief opportunity to handle materials


At the end of the course, participants will be able to:

  • Interpret the development of historic buildings through analysing features such as windows, doors, roofs and floor plans
  • Define key maintenance issues affecting historic buildings, and their potential causes and treatments
  • Apply this knowledge to make informed decisions about the repair and reuse of historic buildings

Course outline*

09:30 Refreshments and registration
10:00 Welcome and introduction
10:15 Buzz session on why we value old buildings
10.35 Architectural styles and interpreting old buildings
11:45 Coffee break
12.00 Traditional building construction
12.45 Lunch, plus building issues exercise
13.25 Practical lime demonstration with an opportunity to handle materials
15.00 Coffee and review of building issues exercise
15:30 Case study exercise - an opportunity to apply what you've learnt
16:25 Final Q&A and evaluation
16.45 Chair's summary
17.00 Close

*This programme is subject to possible change, but start and finish times will not alter.

Delegates at a training session watching a practical demonstration of mixing traditional mortar.
A demonstration of traditional mortar at a previous HELM course in Oxford. © Historic England

Meet the tutor

James Innerdale is an architect specialising in the repair, conservation and adaptation of historic buildings in Cumbria and the Yorkshire Dales. He was awarded the SPAB Scholarship in 1996 and subsequently worked as the Society’s Northern Officer. Having returned to architectural practice James continued to be involved with the SPAB as a corresponding member of the technical panel and voluntary caseworker. From 2013 to 2017 he worked part time as Technical Officer for the SPAB’s Maintenance Co-operatives Project developing and providing the training resources for volunteers working with Places of Worship and  continues to deliver the SPAB's Faith in Maintenance training. James also provides heritage skills training for a range of organisations aimed at professionals, contractors and homeowners.

Online resources

Prior to the training participants will be asked to watch two introductory screencasts, which are available below.

Please note:

Conservation Principles was first published in 2008, and developed the concepts of ‘significance’, and values-based conservation, for use in mainstream English conservation practice. It has become a mainstay of Historic England thinking and practice since then, but changes to the wider context mean it is time for Conservation Principles to be updated. There is a particular need to reflect the fact that significance is now a much more widely used and understood concept, notably in the planning system.

In late 2017, we therefore issued an updated version of Conservation Principles for consultation. This introduced a number of proposed changes, including aligning terminology more closely with that used elsewhere in the conservation sector. For this training course, it is particularly important to note that undesignated historic assets can be significant, as the NPPF test for significance does not equate to the legislation’s requirement for buildings of special interest to be listed.

 The changes to Conservation Principles are intended to minimise confusion, and maximise the effectiveness of our advice, and wider discussions around significance. The consultation document also sought to reduce duplication with other documents, increase the document’s relevance and value to practitioners, and make it more accessible.

The consultation elicited a large number of thoughtfully-articulated submissions, which we are most grateful for, and changes will certainly be made in response. We are currently deciding how best to take the document forward. In light of on-going internal changes, and the importance of this document to us and the sector, we are not expecting to publish a new version until next year. In the meantime, the 2008 version remains a relevant and helpful document, not least in articulating significance, but, in a planning context, we would recommend the use of NPPF terminology to articulate significance where possible. It may also be useful to consult our advice on Managing Significance in the Historic Environment (GPA 2) and Managing Changes to Heritage Assets (HEAN 2).


How to book

Where the course is open, click on the links below to book via eventbrite.

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