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National Heritage Training Academy South West – Autumn Conference

Woodchester Mansion, Nympsfield, Tuesday, 16th October 2007

Sir Michael Latham’s pre-lunch address

Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to be with you today at Woodchester Mansion. I am speaking to you on behalf of ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the industry, which I chair. Not only does Woodchester Mansion live up to its billing as a “unique living text book of building techniques and architecture”, it is also a monument to the skills of the people who built it.

Last September ConstructionSkills matched the funding committed by His Royal Highness to support the first Heritage Academy. Since that time this magnificent venue has been unwavering in its support, and has hosted numerous training days and courses. On behalf of ConstructionSkills and all involved in the Academy, our thanks go to the custodians of Woodchester Mansion for both their ongoing dedication and for hosting today. There are many more partners, some of whom are here today. We owe them all great thanks. Your support has been critical to the Academy’s success.
In recent months the Academy has adopted a new name. What began life as the Cotswolds Heritage Academy is now the National Heritage Training Academy South West. That is recognition indeed of the Academy’s increased status. It reflects that its sphere of influence is truly region wide and that its work forms an essential part of an integrated national heritage skills strategy.

In its first year of operation much has been accomplished already. Successfully negotiating funding from English Heritage and Gloucestershire First was a critical milestone. The brokering of partnerships with other colleges through the region was central to ensuring high quality training delivery. Establishing and supporting key initiatives such as the Construction Heritage Ambassadors scheme and the Get Into Rural Skills partnership with the Prince’s Trust and the Royal Agricultural College was a key step towards a joined-up approach.

None of this would have been possible without the dedicated work of staff associated with the Academy. It is a testament to the South-West Academy’s success that further regional Academies are now in development.
The progress made cannot come soon enough. The construction industry is the country’s largest employer, covering a wide range of disciplines and skills and employing over two million people. Our built heritage is all around us, whether it be represented by somewhere we live and work or visit and enjoy. It is because of this that it is vital that we maintain our historic buildings and their context within the national setting.

It should not be forgotten that the built heritage sector is a vital part of the mainstream construction industry, with the vast majority of related work falling within the repair and maintenance sector. The pre-1919 building stock forms a significant part of the built environment - 20% of total building stock in England and Scotland, one-third in Wales - and in terms of sustainability it is imperative that this stock is appropriately maintained and repaired.

However, as we are all too well aware, heritage skills are sadly not a priority within the construction industry’s agenda. Many of the specialist skills which are needed to preserve our heritage are in decline. Their very existence is being threatened.

ConstructionSkills, the Sector Skills Council for the construction industry, in partnership with the four home country heritage agencies, joined forces five years ago to form the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG). The Group has a UK wide remit to develop training and skills provision for the traditional building crafts sector. Its work is helping to address the threat posed by an ever decreasing specialist skills base in our traditional building craft trades.

Many of you will have attended the NHTG’s conference in July. The event was part of the NHTG’s ongoing work with the UK’s heritage agencies and funders to help ensure co-ordination in the delivery of heritage skills training and development. The Academy is of key strategic importance in supporting the significant progress made by the Group. The overall achievements of the Group this year alone have included:

    - The launch of an NVQ level 3 in Heritage. For the first time this provides a relevant qualification for experienced craftspeople already working in the traditional building conservation, repair and maintenance sector.

    - Support for the Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme - offering £1 million in funding to help craftspeople, trainees and career changers to up-skill in this sector.

    - Ongoing work with colleges to encourage them to offer traditional building skills courses, and particularly running courses to develop the skills of their trainers.

    - The launch of skills and labour mapping research within the built heritage sector in Scotland and Wales, following the launch of the English research in 2005.

It gives me great pleasure to be able to provide this snapshot of the successes which, alongside the Academy and other initiatives, will prove invaluable for the long term survival of traditional building skills and rural crafts.

Now as the end of the year approaches, we need to look forward to the challenges ahead. We must remain committed and focussed on what needs to be done to build on our successes to date.

We must ensure a business case is made for investment in training for the heritage sector, by advocating that clients demand the right skills for the contract. They should balance quality and price when assessing tenders. Currently industry culture, trade practice and the historic lack of awareness among many clients and stockholders has contributed to the vicious circle which perpetuates the use of inappropriate methods and materials on pre-1919 buildings. It is therefore essential that these skills are also considered and incorporated into supply chain tendering processes.

The procurement process needs to help raise skills standards right across the industry. Clients need to recognise the costs are slight compared to the potentially greater risks and longer term damage to the buildings and structures caused by not using a skilled workforce.

We are all here today because we share a common purpose in our passion for, and commitment toward, preserving our built heritage. The Academy is a living example of the value of working together through partnerships in order to realise a common goal. I am sure that today’s event will serve to galvanise us yet further to safeguard buildings such as this for generations to come.

Thank you for your time and for being here today. I hope you all enjoy the lunch and I look forward to hearing your views and ideas over the course of our meal. ConstructionSkills regards our heritage work as vital. I am delighted to say that a splendid detailed paper on the heritage was placed before our Board last Thursday, and was very impressive. But there is must more to do, and there is not much time. Our heritage draws millions of people to it, all over the country, every year. It is our duty to keep it in good shape. We will not let our heritage down.

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