2008 Yearbook

i n r e v i e w 17 Modern conservation: skills and standards for integrated teamwork Seán O’Reilly, IHBC Director Our president has outlined the Institute’s recent success and challenges, while our chairman has set these in the wider policy context that modern conservation has shaped. It is for me to show how we are helping reinvigorate conservation in the modern world. One of the most dramatic changes we have seen in recent years is more substantial recognition across society of the potential to apply conservation standards in all parts of our lives. Certainly this new awareness needs to be more effectively integrated with policy and practice – the failure of the VAT regime to recognise the value of proper maintenance is perhaps the most high-profile anomaly. Society does, however, better appreciate the inclusive social and economic benefits conservation brings, while the scale of its environmental benefits is increasingly difficult to ignore. Conservation reduces carbon emissions and waste in development and, thereby, climate change. Even if, in the public eye, the climate change agenda seems led by the ‘green’ agenda, the carbon-efficient benefits of historic environment conservation strategies are both real and substantial. The construction sector has, generally, accepted the need for the kind of conservation skills that we promote, such as inter-disciplinary working within specialised teams, and sustainable practices, as research by ConstructionSkills and the National Heritage Training Group testifies. More recently research by the Academy for Sustainable Skills (www. ascskills.org.uk/pages/research/mind- the-skills-gap) has highlighted the need for these same skills that our members are strongest in, even if they are not always actually identified specifically as ‘conservation’, as we explore further below. Our own research, written up by our Projects Officer for this edition of the IHBC Yearbook , also confirms how our members in local authorities work alongside distinct specialisms, from archaeology to urban design, as a matter of course. Yet we do need to show better how conservation, using a combination of skills sets, can serve our contemporary needs, and how the IHBC’s membership criteria represent the skills needed for conservation in the modern world. The opportunities are there and the IHBC is well placed to take advantage of them, but we would benefit hugely from a business environment that understands conservation to be the solution, not just another problem. Duties to conservation Conservation is not easy, and it can be very, very difficult. It involves making hard decisions about awkward cases and, like planning control, you will not always have happy participants singing its praises. It requires mediation, as compromises are sought; concessions, as lines are relinquished; and, only occasionally, achieves real victory, usually when informed people work well together. Many of the polarisations that characterise conservation of old could be superseded if professionals, communities, owners and others work together in an environment that acknowledges the real benefits of conserving historic fabric and its character. Conservation cannot be sidelined or diluted, but its principles must be expanded to their proper role, or ‘mainstreamed’. To do this we need our colleagues and fellow professionals to stand together in support of it. Government, in particular the national heritage agencies, must take a genuine and positive lead in advocating conservation of our valued places as a core strategy for government as a whole. They must broadcast widely that addressing conservation challenges also addresses climate change, economic imperatives and social needs. Just as the Heritage Lottery Fund has so successfully identified the benefits brought by its investments, national heritage agencies must lead in identifying conservation strategies as the solution, because of its manifold benefits, and not the problem just because there are so few easy answers. So, specific conservation priorities, including regulatory controls and market intervention, must be part of the life-blood of our national heritage agencies to justify wider support for their role and funding. Softer cultural imperatives are, quite simply, not sufficient on their own for the 21st century. English Heritage’s ‘Heritage Protection Reform’ (HPR) strategies point in the right direction and are discussed further below. However until conservation, rather than information, becomes our focus, and resources, rather than training, our investment, it can only address some of the issues the sector faces. More important, though, may be English Heritage’s conference in January 2008, on climate change,