Historic England Apprenticeships- an Unexpected Opportunity
Adam Vamplew explains how an apprenticeship with Historic England as a Research Coordinator has helped to set him on a career path he didn’t think possible.
In the summer of 2021 I was unemployed, having taken a year off work to focus on renovating my house. I had taken the decision to return to regular employment with no real ‘plan of action’ as to what sort of a job I actually wanted. I had made several unsuccessful applications to a whole plethora of vacancies including ‘vehicle valeter’, ‘prescription delivery driver’, and even ‘dog-walker’. With hindsight, I’m extremely grateful none of these adverts responded to me, or I wouldn’t be where I am today.
I have always had a passion for history and heritage, but until I discovered the Historic Environment Advice Assistant apprenticeship with Historic England, I thought it was a world I wouldn’t be able to break into without a university degree. Seeing a job advert on a historic architecture forum certainly changed my life, and has given me a leg up in a career I hope to pursue for many years to come.
Since starting my apprenticeship in September 2021, I have learned many new skills and gained a tremendous amount of knowledge about the heritage sector and the work that Historic England carries out. Two years ago, I’d never even heard of Historic England, but since then I have not only learned about the work that Historic England does, but also been able to contribute to it, at both local and national levels. Since starting, my apprenticeship has taken me all over the country, from Bishop Auckland in the North East, St Austell in the South West, Aldeburgh on the Suffolk Coast to inner-city Birmingham, with multiple journeys to the capital, all while being based in the historic city of York.
The main bulk of my time is spent helping to run and administer Historic England’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnership programme, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. This aspect of my work includes a wide variety of tasks, such as liaising with students, university tutors and Historic England and English Heritage supervisors; organising our twice-yearly online meetings; organising events for students; and gathering vital information for our Key Performance Indicators and our annual report to the Arts and Humanities Research Council.
Being Human Festival
In 2022 I was tasked with being the lead organiser for our Collaborative Doctoral Partnership entry into the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s ‘Being Human Festival’, an annual celebration of the arts and humanities held each November. The 2022 theme was ‘Breakthroughs’. With my line manager, Dr Jo Byrne, and Dr Andrew Hann from English Heritage and with six of our Collaborative Doctoral Partnership students, I helped to put together an event at Kenwood House in London to show the public the amazing research being carried out by our PhD students.
For the better part of nine months I led our participants through the organising process. The students each designed and produced interactive activities for the public, as well as each creating content for the production of individual ‘roller banners’, illustrating and explaining our event. I was charged with liaising with the Historic England Creative Studio and the students to ensure that banner designs were up to standard and specification.
The Creative Studio team also designed postcards to hand out at the event, on which visitors could record their thoughts and their own personal breakthroughs, as well as a ‘questions trail’, which attendees could answer by visiting each exhibit.
At the event, over 200 people spoke to our students and learned about the research being carried out across a wide range of topics. People were able to share their memories of their local historic High Street, design their own medieval stained-glass window, and even have a go on a fully interactive documentary on heritage loss. Following the first part of the Festival, which was held as a public drop-in session, we held a ticketed evening event where the students each gave a five-minute presentation on their work and then fielded questions from the audience.
The feedback we received for the event from the general public was incredibly positive, with most learning about Historic England’s Collaborative Doctoral Partnerships for the first time. This, along with getting our students some public-facing experience, was our main motive for holding the event. It was therefore viewed as a highly successful endeavour on all accounts.
I have also been lucky enough to gain a wide range of experience in different departments at Historic England and the wider heritage sector. Twice I have assisted the Landscape Archaeology Team in conducting earthwork surveys, learning valuable fieldwork skills and getting to know the methods of recording earthworks using Total Station survey techniques. The two sites I have been fortunate to work on were very different. The first, in March 2022, was a medieval monastic site, looking at hand-dug fishponds and water channels built to serve the abbey. The second site, in February 2023, was a hillfort spanning several periods, mainly from the Neolithic to the Bronze Ages. I found the experience to be incredibly rewarding, and despite the rapid learning curve of grasping the various survey techniques I was able to make a useful contribution to both surveys.
A large portion of any apprenticeship is, of course, learning, and the Historic Environment Advice Assistant course is no different. There are nine Historic Environment Advice Assistant apprentices, working across five organisations, and we all meet once every three months for a week of block release, with online learning sessions every fortnight or so. The block release weeks take place all over the country: we have experienced college-based learning in Somerset and met in various Historic England offices, such as York, Portsmouth and Birmingham.
Block releases are vital aspect of the apprenticeship. Not only do they afford us the opportunity to see a different part of the country and learn about the local heritage challenges, but it also allows us to see a wide variety of heritage landscapes and meet numerous heritage professionals with unique specialist knowledge. So far on block releases we have learned about designed landscapes in registered parks and gardens, discussed various methods of adaptive building reuse and discovered how climate change can affect historic buildings and heritage landscapes – but this is only scratching the surface of what we are learning.
At the time of writing, I am 18-months through the 27-month apprenticeship, and in the limited space I have been given for this article I have only been able to offer a snapshot of the work I have been carrying out. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity of working for Historic England, especially given the strength of the other candidates I sat my group interview with. The scheme has shown its value by giving me, and my fellow apprentices, an insight into how the heritage sector works and by equipping us with new knowledge and skills.
My only wish at this moment in time is that this apprenticeship is the beginning of a long, rewarding career in the heritage sector. My new purpose and hope is that with each passing year I can continue to make a contribution to conservation and public awareness of our nation’s fascinating history and heritage.
About the author
- Name and role
- Title and organisation
- Historic Environment Advice Assistant Apprentice/ Research Coordinator at Historic England
- Adam has had a strong interest in history and heritage since childhood, with a particular focus on industrial heritage and gothic/ neo-gothic architecture. As an alternative to the traditional university route, the apprenticeship has enabled him to gain knowledge of the UK heritage sector, as well as to meet and learn from leaders in their field.