2007 Yearbook

INSTITUTE OF HISTORIC BUILDING CONSERVATION YEARBOOK 2007 35 I N R E V I E W ELAINE LEE – CONSERVATION OFFICER TO SURVEY AND RECORDS Architectural survey and recording officer on the Survey and Recording team at RCAHMS, ELAINE LEE ’s responsibilities include developing links with local authorities. Eleven years ago I spent a week in a busy local authority planning office on my high school work experience. Perhaps it was wearing a hard hat and steel capped boots or seeing bricks and mortar taking shape in front of me, but something triggered an interest in the built environment. Although I didn’t know or appreciate it then, this experience undoubtedly influenced decisions I would make about my subsequent career path. Given my interest in the physical environment and the processes that shape our social, political, economic and cultural landscape, I embarked on a geography degree at the University of Edinburgh. On successful completion of this MA I enrolled on a postgraduate masters degree in European urban conservation at the University of Dundee. This course provided a broad and intensive introduction into the multifaceted subject of building conservation. Subjects included architectural history, practical (and ‘hands on’) building conservation, planning legislation and the history and philosophy of conservation in an inspiring and challenging environment. In June 2003, shortly after the course ended, I took up the post of assistant conservation officer at Lancaster City Council while continuing to research and write a dissertation entitled Seaside Architecture: the role of urban conservation in the regeneration of seaside towns . Thrown in somewhat at the deep end in a period between the retirement of the previous long serving senior conservation officer and the arrival of the new one, I soon discovered the diverse and challenging world of the local authority conservation officer. Within my first week I recall being asked if it would be okay to install uPVC windows in a Grade II* listed building and if it was really necessary to replace uplifted riven natural flagstones in a conservation area with the same or if bitmac would do? I quickly developed my skills of negotiation, patience and perseverance – just some of the many essential qualities of a conservation officer. The most important quality I would argue, however, is a genuine enthusiasm for the job. The learning curve was steep but immensely rewarding. Undoubtedly the most challenging aspect of this job was my involvement in a townscape heritage initiative (THI) in Morecambe. The purpose of this Heritage Lottery funded grant scheme was (and still is) to stimulate and contribute to the conservation- led regeneration of the town’s social, cultural, economic and physical environment. Grants from the THI scheme enabled historic shopfronts and houses to be restored to their former quality, which in turn created an attractive environment that residents could be proud of and a place that people would want to visit. The biggest challenge was changing people’s attitudes towards their environment and demonstrating that urban conservation could actually be a positive driving force for long-term improvements. In the three years I was with Lancaster City Council I witnessed significant progress, particularly in Morecambe, brought about through conservation-driven projects. I left the council in June 2006 with a strong sense of achievement as THI-funded regeneration work in progress in Morecambe