ConstructionSkills homepage
About us | Sector Skills Agreement | Strategic Initiatives | Research | News | Have your say
News > Speeches and presentations > 
Speeches and presentations

Skills and Training within the Built Heritage Sector

Dame Liz Forgan, Chair

Heritage Lottery Fund

Thank you very much, Peter. Good afternoon, everybody. Let me just say what a delight it is to have the opportunity to talk to you: it is wonderful to be among the righteous on this subject. There’s no need for me to tell anybody in this room about the skills shortage in heritage. You will all be familiar with the NHTG report that sets out the problem in some detail. That report tells us exactly what’s going on: it says the sector is not thinking strategically, the government has not made the link between sustainability and conserving heritage, not enough flexible training, school leavers don’t see heritage as an attractive future, and a lot of heritage contractors are self-employed and don’t take on apprentices. What is more, even if you get a job, the report says, there is not always anywhere to go next. I’ll have to display my skills at pressing buttons. I think I might be a better flint napper than I am a technician, but I’ll do my best.

Sadly, many of these issues are ones that we at the Heritage Lottery Fund picked up in an earlier, but much less detailed, study of the problem. Our report, called ‘Sustaining our living heritage’, published in the year 2000, says, I’m afraid, pretty much the same thing. We also found that there were real skill shortages, there was very little investment in training, and low take-up of qualifications. No-one seemed to see training as their problem. But if we all know about the problem, the real question is, what are we doing about it?

Let me tell you a bit about the way we have set about it at the Heritage Lottery Fund. In 2002, we decided to put training and skills at the heart of our second strategic plan, which is called ‘Broadening the Horizons of Heritage’. We said that we would encourage training elements in applications, including support for volunteer training and apprenticeship placements. We also said we would support projects that promote the importance of heritage skills. As a result, there have been lots of projects which involve training. Recently, I went to York, to see the glass from the great 15th Century East Window: it is absolutely incredible, and of course, when you take it out of the window and you can see it up close like this, it is just magical. The window is as big as a tennis court and it’s probably - or so they claim – the first piece of art by a named master in England. Unfortunately, it’s not in very good condition, and there’s been a lot of higgledy-piggledy restoration in the past, which makes it actually quite difficult to read and to appreciate the sheer artistic achievement of that window. Now, there aren’t any courses that teach you how to restore historic glass, so we’re helping York Glaziers Trust to train two new apprentice glass conservators on the spot, as they repair the window, and that will hopefully do something to tackle the real shortage of glass conservators in the United Kingdom.

As well as supporting training projects, we also decided to get tough with the big guys: we asked anyone who came to us for more than £1 million, as part of their application, to produce a training plan: to tell us exactly what they would be doing about skills and training. And we’ve produced a guidance note to tell them how to do it. That means there should be over 400 training plans out there and in use. Not sure our enforcement procedures are quite as stern as our words in the application, but nonetheless, it’s a start.

So, let me give you some idea of what all that paperwork achieved. There is a very different problem in the Northumberland National Park than the one we found in York. One of the things that make the Park special is the traditional dry stone walls and hedges, but nearly ninety per cent of the hedges and half of the walls need repair. So, what we’ve done is to fund a project that will train 50 apprentices to build dry stone walls, lay hedges, build paths and identify species. In Scotland, at the somewhat derelict Penicuik house, 16 apprentices are being trained by the Scottish Lime Trust, to work with traditional lime mortar, to be inculcated into the ‘brotherhood of lime’, which I love, whenever I meet it. But we also need to make sure that the public knows more about the value of traditional building skills, so there’s also a training officer who will be offering courses to the public, in things like using lime mortar, repairing stone, and traditional horticulture. Given that some ninety per cent of historic buildings are in private hands, initiatives like this can, of course, have a big impact.

Of course, the Heritage Lottery Fund deals with the natural, as well as the built, heritage, but the issues are pretty much the same. There’s heaps of enthusiasm among the general public for helping with biodiversity projects, but this energy needs organising and guiding. The Field Studies Council is taking a lead on training with a grant from us: they will organise over 35 training events this year, some are taster sessions, encouraging first-time volunteers to get involved, while others offer accredited courses to specialists, focusing on little-recorded species.

So, those are just some of the highlights of what has been achieved since we set our hand to this plough, but to be frank, we have been a bit disappointed with the quality of some of the work we’ve seen. We have got the impression from some of the training plans, that people just don’t take training seriously. Plans were often sketchy, many lacked creativity and ambition. Somehow, training was still a low priority, when there was so much else to think about, and there is: a big application for Heritage Lottery Fund is a complicated and tricky matter, and we have to understand that. But that was why our trustees decided to go one step further, and set up the Training Bursary Scheme in January 2006.

This was a clear change of policy: in the early days, we absolutely did not intend to fund professional training and skills. We were very clear, this was not our job, and we expected the sector to get its own house in order. But our experience of funding projects through the nineties persuaded us that we just had to think again. We were funding a lot of heritage projects, but the skills shortage didn’t seem to be getting any better. We looked very hard at the whole training problem - who did what? – and we decided that the best way in which we could make a difference was to focus our efforts in one particular area: on-the-job training, delivered through partnerships, with the very best of the operators in the historic environment business. So we gave £7 million to ten schemes, each running for four years.

Each scheme is very different, they are training people in everything from managing habitats to repairing things like buses and automobiles. They are all delivering training to different models, but together they will result in hundreds more people achieving level 3 qualifications in heritage skills. Some of the schemes have got off to a flying start, and I have some great news to report: we’ve just learnt that five young people now have permanent jobs in heritage, thanks to the training bursary scheme that we’ve been supporting with Icon, the Institute of Conservation. Rachael Swift, who you see working here, the recipient of a twelve-month bursary, has moved on to a permanent contract at the British Museum, as a ceramics conservator. Sarah Rainbow has taken up the permanent post of Collections Care Assistant at Manchester City Galleries. In this case, the existence of the Heritage Lottery Fund bursary placement, and the importance of the work completed, helped Sarah’s manager make the case for the creation of a new post.

All of the schemes are happening right now, and we’ve just had the results of our first evaluation of six of them. This is what we’ve found out so far: 68 people have started courses, 20 have completed courses – that doesn’t mean that the remaining 48 have gone fishing, they’re still at it – twenty-five per cent have permanent jobs, and the rest have taken short term contracts, voluntary work, or are continuing their studies.

In terms of the range of skills, we’ve identified 38 different areas in which people are being trained. The real emphasis has been on practical skills. For example, in the natural heritage, people are learning things that were not covered at college or university, such as identifying species. In the Norfolk Broads, there are five people learning to cut reeds and sedge, and this will enable them to be self-employed if they want to, but it will also give them wider skills in estate management. There are also five millwright apprentices. Their training course lasts three years, but it will enable them to undertake any sort of mill conservation. Skills like these are just vitally important in preserving the historic character of the area. There are 74 drainage mills in the Broads requiring restoration and maintenance, 74, and only one local millwright.

In fact, there’s a lot more going on as part of these schemes. For example, the LEMUR project, which stands for Learning Environments in Marine, Urban and Rural Areas, run by the Herefordshire Nature Trust, is a very creative partnership between two nature trusts and a private sector environmental organisation. Trainees from each of the partners come together to run courses for each other, so there’s a lot of sharing experience and working together as well as training. So far, feedback on the quality of the training has been very good. Trainees tell us the activities are meeting their needs, interests and aspirations, and the host employers have also been pleased. The projects are all producing individual training plans, which should be tailored to individual needs. A lot of work, but I think it’s really proving a very great success.

If I had one criticism to make, it is that we have been disappointed at the lack of ethnic diversity among trainees: although there was a good age range – between and 19 and 52 - and over half of the trainees are women, the vast majority of recruits have been drawn from the white British audience traditionally associated with heritage conservation. Why does that matter? Because were not drawing on the pool of talent, and we’re still thinking of heritage as something that has yet to make a real impact on large sections of our modern population.

Those are just some early results, and we’ll be following those projects closely over the next few years to find out more about them. Of course, the training bursaries are not all that we’re doing. They haven’t stopped us from continuing to fund fantastic training projects under our main grant schemes, such as the ‘Faith in Maintenance’ scheme. We saw ourselves, and still do, as a demand ‘pull’ actor in this play, more than a ‘push’. We are going to demand that training is built into our projects, so that it encourages other people to do the business, that’s our main function.

Faith in Maintenance is a scheme run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, doing an absolutely wonderful job in teaching church wardens, a key lynchpin of the fabric of our churches, to maintain their churches. We all know that cleaning out your gutters and keeping your drains clear deals with very many of the problems of old buildings, and I hope that the people in this fab project are getting that message, too, but it’s not the only one they’re getting, they’re also learning more technical skills. Under our third strategic plan, to be launched in April 2008, we want to fund more projects like this.

The NHTG constantly reminds us that a very large part of the UK construction industry is about repairing and refurbishing existing buildings, and not new construction. We must make this political and commercial point, as Peter said earlier: it’s of real importance to the national economy, and not some amusing sideline. At the end of the day, if you just look it up, the Heritage Lottery Fund alone, never mind English Heritage and the private sector, funds a great deal of conservation. We have already spent over one billion pounds since we were founded, on conserving buildings alone, and that is in addition to the money we’ve spent on conserving landscapes, biodiversity, parks, museum collections and all the other things we do. This is a hugely significant investment in heritage, and even with less money in the future, it will continue to pour cash through this sector. In the next 12 years, even with the Olympic Games, we will be investing £180 million a year in the heritage of the United Kingdom, and at current rates, that should contribute roughly another £700 million for building conservation alone, over the coming decade.

Have a look at the range of some of the things that have happened in recent history: I’ll just quickly whip through these slides. Houghton Mill and the National Railway Museum; hedge-laying in Alwinton; this is Cornwall, the Cornish Wildlife Trust; stonemasons, more stonemasons, and the Tweed Rivers project, a wonderful project in Scotland, 100 square miles across the borders of England and Scotland. All over the country, all kinds of things, really flourishing sector.

This investment is worth training for. It will be worth it for both employers and trainees. Heritage investment is a substantial and enduring part of the building industry, and the industry just needs to invest in its future. At Heritage Lottery Fund, we won’t have a special training bursary scheme in the future. We think that anyone who comes to us for a project should be thinking about training as part of that project, and not as some special separate thing. We want to be presented with innovative ideas about addressing skills gaps, we want to see training mainstreamed in our grant-giving and included in project budgets.

In new guidance linked to our third strategic plan, which we are still thinking about, we are going to encourage more applicants to produce training plans, and they will remain mandatory for projects over £1 million, though my private hope is that, mandatory as they have been, we will actually be better at making sure that they happen, and they happen to high standards in future. In an increasingly competitive environment, you can be sure our trustees are going to have a steelier eye on value and quality than they do already, and I ask, what will your sector do to help us meet our aspiration of a high-quality, trained, heritage workforce?

We understand English Heritage is looking at the introduction of training in works contracts, and this might encourage more on-the-job training in heritage projects: we’d like to hear more detail about that. Ultimately, of course, the Heritage Lottery Fund can’t do this by itself, we are a funder. We try to be an innovative thinker, and an encourager of good practice, but we are not a training body or a specialist adviser. Nevertheless, we hope we can put our shoulder to the same wheel as you in the future, to take things forward and show that we are actually making a difference to the skills shortage, and not just talking about it. We will share our evaluation of the training bursaries scheme with the sector when we have done it, and we will promote positive legacies from it. We will evaluate the impact of our requirement for training plans, and share our learning. We will look at the idea of training in works contracts, and the issue of procurement with EH and NHGT colleagues, and strengthen the messages in our guidance when we can, and we will continue to promote heritage careers and the importance of heritage skills, in absolutely all of our communications and advocacy work. We look forward very much to helping you to crack this enduring and exasperating nut, before we are all out of this world and finished with our job. Thank you very much.

Peter Rogerson: Thank you very much, Liz, for that, and I share your passion of this not being an issue merely for your department but for the whole industry to share, and I hope that message goes out clear and strong from today.

Our next speaker is Jon Wallsgrove, Departmental Architect to Ministry of Justice, and he’s going to be discussing a framework contract for procuring historic building skills and services, and the setting up and renewing of a framework contract for architectural services for historic buildings, in partnership with Parliamentary Estates Directorate, and Cabinet Office, and ensuring this approach is replicated wherever possible. After Jon has spoken we’re going to have a short film, and then we will have our table discussion. So, ladies and gentlemen, can I introduce to you Jon Wallsgrove.

Skills Update
Read & Register online
Image of construction
Construction Industry Council
CITB Northern Ireland

Site map

print page

Print this page

Terms & Conditions


Privacy Policy




Contact us