Conservation repairs in progress on a Historic England Heritage at Risk grant project to Marsden Lime Kilns, South Tyneside.
Conservation repairs in progress on a Historic England Heritage at Risk grant project, Marsden Lime Kilns, South Tyneside © Historic England
Conservation repairs in progress on a Historic England Heritage at Risk grant project, Marsden Lime Kilns, South Tyneside © Historic England

Building Skills and Training into Conservation Projects

Conservation projects offer great opportunities to engage with the public and to build in skills and training for those working on the project. Here you can find out more about how to plan and deliver activities, explore case studies and learn about the benefits.

This page covers:

What are the benefits?

The benefits of building in skills and training activities include: 

  • Volunteering opportunities
  • Attractive to grant funders
  • Opportunities for income generation and fundraising
  • Increased publicity for your project
  • Promoting careers in heritage

Incorporating skills and training into heritage projects helps to stimulate demand for traditional buildings skills and helps to address skills gaps and shortages identified from our skills research.

What are the options?

There are a variety of options depending on the scale of your project. It's important to plan early. Once you know what type of activities you want to deliver, you can plan for the costs and resources required.

Plan your activities to match the duration, scale and resources available to the project to ensure they are realistic to deliver. Also think about which audiences you want to engage with. Some examples are:

Crafts people and professionals

Hard hat site tours, presentations, workshops and training days give a rare opportunity to view conservation works in progress. Attendees get to learn about the materials, techniques and skills involved and to learn from the contractors and the professional team working on the project. This practical and peer to peer learning is popular with this audience. It also helps them to meet their professional body’s Continuous Professional Development (CPD) requirements. The project workforce can use the project for up-skilling training and to work towards qualifications. Recent examples include:

  • Walk and Talk Tours for craftspeople and professionals at Black Barn, Northumberland. Supported by Historic England, the tours explained the repairs to the rare heather-thatched roof
  • The training programme at Penmaen Cottage included a 10 day hands-on course on traditional slate roofing for local roofing contractors, building surveyors and architects. Training films were created as resources
  • A mason working on the Bounds Walls, Ushaw used their experience on site to gain their NVQ Level 3 Diploma in Heritage Skills and Heritage Gold Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card

Trainees and students

Colleges and other organisations can get involved in one off events. You could offer them hands on taster sessions or set up a longer partnership providing practical, on-site learning. Recent projects include:

  • A partnership between the National Trust and City of Bath college where stone masonry students gained on-site experience and learned from the specialist contractors working on the repair of the Orangery at Tyntesfield
  • Construction students from Gateshead College undertook traditional lime mortar repairs to the rare 19th-century pottery kilns at Corbridge funded by Historic England
  • Young people got hands on experience repairing historic brickwork in the Kitchen Gardens at Tyntesfield, via the Prince’s Trust ‘Get Into’ Construction programme

Work based placements

Many projects have offered work placements. These range in duration from work experience lasting one week to longer term up-skilling placements leading to qualifications. Here are some examples:

  • The All Souls, Bolton project offered six bursary placements, each lasting three to four months in glazing, masonry and roofing trades
  • The Harmondsworth Barn project offered a 12-month carpentry placement with the main contractor under the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme which was running at the time

You can also offer work placements to those on existing training programmes and bursary schemes.

Visitors and the public

There is strong demand and enthusiasm from the public to get behind the scenes and see conservation works in progress. You could set up scaffold viewing platforms, heritage skills events, on site demonstrations, hard hat tours or behind the scenes open days. The conservation works can be showcased through on-site signage, newsletters, making a video and through social media.

  • The National Trust have successfully run similar activities on their projects such as the reroofing works at Dyrham Park where new and repeat visitors were provided with lift access to view the works from the scaffolding. This was linked to the ‘Sign a Slate’ fundraising campaign. At Croome Park they also set up a Sky Café on the scaffolding which proved popular with visitors
  • Similarly English Heritage offer conservation tours where visitors get to see conservation in action, and learn about the materials and skills involved in the care of their sites

The National Lottery Heritage Fund Training Best Practice Guide includes more ideas.

A heritage skills programme, supported by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, is being delivered during the construction works at the Grade I Listed Shrewsbury Flax Mill Maltings.

Work placements, site tours and training events use the site itself as a tool for learning. The programme is targeted at students and trainees and those already working in construction, such as contractors, craftspeople and other professionals.

Hard hat tours offer groups with connections to heritage, construction and local interests, behind the scenes access to see at close hand the complex repairs that are taking place to the roof, brickwork and window openings. The focus is on offering opportunities to a diverse range of people particularly those underrepresented in construction careers, including young people and women.

How to plan and deliver activities

Many of these activities need the main contractor to be involved to deliver them. Experience from the projects highlighted here shows the benefits of incorporating planned activities into the tender and contract documents. To do this, draft clauses which give an outline description and quantities of the activities to be delivered. They need to set out what you require from the contractor including, health and safety management, risk assessments, evidence of insurances, gaining co-operation of sub-contractors and steps for monitoring progress.

The Churches Conservation Trust have produced a guide including example contract clauses, event and training templates.

Case studies

Here are some case studies from a range of organisations. They illustrate the range of activities that could be delivered on a project, explain how the activities were delivered, give practical lessons learned and feedback from those involved in the projects.

  • At Harmondsworth Barn, a trainee placement worked on site and the main contractor delivered hard hat tours and Sunday Open Days offering public access to the works.
  • The Orangery, Tyntesfield, delivered a college partnership, hands on workshops, taster tours, open days and a trainee placement.
  • At All Souls, Bolton, the Churches Conservation Trust delivered trainee placements, a range of events including technical days for contractors and professionals and wider engagement events to promote heritage skills included taster days for apprentices, university and built environment students and primary school children.
  • The case study at Black Barn in North East England demonstrates how to deliver public engagement, skills and training activities as part of conservation works in progress on a small scale project.
  • The case study in Ushaw, County Durham also shows how to deliver public engagement, skills and training activities as part of conservation works in progress.

Read more case studies on skills within the historic environment in the 2013 Heritage Counts.