Image of a group of members at an IHBC hosted event seated at tables for groupwork.
Although the IHBC has not been able to hold face-to-face events, it has been working to support its members © IHBC
Although the IHBC has not been able to hold face-to-face events, it has been working to support its members © IHBC

Virtual Reality: Promoting Continuing Professional Development During Lockdown

By David McDonald, Chair of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC)

The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) is the professional body of the United Kingdom representing conservation specialists and historic environment practitioners in the public and private sectors. As a professional institute, the IHBC has had a number of immediate ‘hits’ because of the coronavirus pandemic. These include: a reduced income from subscriptions and job advertising; cancellation or postponement of a number of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) events, including the 2020 Annual School in Brighton, committees and branch meetings; furloughing one member of staff.

But of course, our main concern is the effect of the pandemic on our members. In the public sector, including Historic England and local planning authorities, the impact has been relatively limited. The majority of employees are fortunate to still be in full-time work, though some may have been furloughed. Anecdotally, I believe that most are working from home and having numerous meetings online.

The major issue is the inability to undertake site visits which is holding up much work
including the processing of applications for listed building consent.

As an IHBC member and independent consultant Marion Barter has already mentioned in her contribution to this debate, this problem of restrictions on site visits and not being able to access libraries and archives to carry out research. Whilst lockdown has enabled
completion of some ongoing work she has noticed a reduction in the number of new
commissions.

So, what has the IHBC’s response been to the pandemic? There are limits to what a
relatively small organisation can do on its own, but we have found that it has been to our advantage not to have a physical headquarters (the majority of staff already work from home). We were also ahead of the game in already having in place arrangements for virtual trustees’ meetings.

Our twice-weekly Newsblogs are keeping members updated with information and advice. We are also working with organisations such as The Heritage Alliance and Historic England to advise government on how it can support the historic environment sector and aid recovery.

But what are we doing about CPD? The postponement of our Annual School in Brighton has certainly been a blow. However, arrangements are being made to hold it next year, also in Brighton. In order not to lose the momentum, we have organised a 2020 Virtual School in the form of a webinar on Friday 19 June, entitled ‘Old Towns New Futures: Heritage Reflections and Speculations on a Global Pandemic’.

This was very quickly put together, using some of the speakers who were already engaged for the Brighton Annual School. As the conference title suggests, they responded to the epidemic. We also obtained perspectives from elsewhere, by engaging a number of speakers from abroad.

The school comprised two separate sessions, each consisting of a series of pre-recorded presentations followed by live questions and answers. Amongst the technical challenges of running the event online, organising the Q&A with speakers from abroad in different time- zones was no mean feat.

On the plus side, we attracted over 300 delegates from the UK and abroad who were able to download automatically generated CPD certificates. My own CPD record has certainly been boosted, not only by attendance at the school, but also by learning how to chair a webinar.

More about this year’s school, plus past and future years 

Of course, the IHBC is not the only organisation to be promoting online learning, but the
heritage sector as a whole should be aware of its potential. After the success of the
conference we will be looking to what lessons we might learn for national and local CPD
events in the future.

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