2007 Yearbook

INSTITUTE OF HISTORIC BUILDING CONSERVATION YEARBOOK 2007 15 I N R E V I E W THE BIG PICTURE John Yates, IHBC CHAIR 2007 promises to be the year when much of the hard work of 2006, and before, bears fruit. We just have to hope that there is not a late frost. In England, the long expected Heritage Protection Reform really will become political activity, aiming at new legislation in 2010. After all that policy work behind the scenes by a necessarily small group of our members it will be refreshing to be much more open (and to have a much wider involvement of our members) in making our contribution to the final stages of debate, drafting and implementation. OK, so it’s likely to be mainly a reform of legislative process rather than a whole new set of values and priorities, but underlying it will be the 21st century way of seeing the historic environment as everybody’s and everywhere – the ‘Joined Up Historic Place’. That’s the spirit of the age, so we can expect the other home nations to bring in similar reforms very soon. Meanwhile, now that our own administrative processes are so soundly based, we are also turning our attention to how the institute itself should evolve. What kind of professional body will be relevant to the new ways of working that are already emerging? Joined up professions? In one sense yes, and in another, no. When the institute evolved ten years ago from the Association of Conservation Officers, the typical member was very much a joined-up professional: he or she was expected to deploy a very wide range of skills, often single-handed and without other specialist advice. The eight competences against which our new entrants are assessed still reflect that picture of the late 20th century conservation officer. While there still are the lone rangers, conservation professionals now are much more likely to be working in multi-disciplinary teams and partnerships, whether in the public, private or voluntary sectors. We can now see clear sets of skills which do not necessarily correlate with those of the traditional professional bodies. Those skills fall into three broad groups which can be summarised as understanding, managing and implementing. Understanding the historic environment is typically a historical, archaeological, educational and communicative range of activities. Archaeologists already have standards- based professional structures (some are IHBC members), but historians at present do not, although they are providing a similar kind of service. Managing the historic environment is practised by planners and other regulators, project managers, curatorial archaeologists, site operators, and specialist lawyers. Again some are IHBC members; indeed they encompass the current core of our membership. Implementing works in the historic environment is the role of the construction professionals – architects, surveyors, engineers, urban designers, and landscape architects. They currently make up about one quarter of our membership. Specialist conservation contractors are also part of this group, although they are usually not in the traditional professions. All of these people are expected to have a general knowledge, at the level of an informed client, of the whole range of conservation skills and values. However, they clearly cannot be expected to practice all of them as accredited professionals providing a full service. A multi-disciplinary professional body like ours needs to be able to identify, maintain and develop the skill sets its members offer: the institute owes that to the historic environment, and our members owe it to their clients. In the 2006 edition of the Yearbook I trailed the idea of ‘faculties of membership’. Those faculties can follow the three broad sets of skills outlined above, enabling the institute to widen its membership base while maintaining its standards. Does that sound like an institute of the Historic Environment? Fear not. In my last few months as Chair I shall give this as much impetus as possible, in spite of the excitements outside. Now let’s look at the really big picture. How do we relate to the green sustainability agenda? This is an issue that, I am sure, will soon make cultural identity and even economic regeneration look like sideshows, or like ‘instrumental values’ to use a current phrase. Much of what we do already correlates closely with resource conservation, and includes being aware of scale and the virtues of smallness, looking to the long term, not mending what’s not broken, using local materials, and preferring the natural to the synthetic, for example. However, sometimes we will have to strike balances, make compromises even, in order to work with the public benefit of sustainability, just as we do with economic benefit. Conserving old places is an inherently green activity; so let’s make sure we put that message over loud and clear. John Yates, chair@ihbc.org.uk