Experts warn historic buildings in the UK are at risk from skills shortage
The vast majority of people in Britain believe that the nation’s historic buildings should be preserved but experts point out that there is a lack of skills to repair them.
Some 89% of the British public believe it’s important to preserve these national treasures and 42% said the responsibility to invest and maintain these structures lies with the Government.
However, despite the public’s passion for historic buildings, the majority don’t understand the specialist skills needed to preserve them, at a time when the entire construction industry is facing a skills shortage
It means that much loved historic buildings are at risk due to a restoration skills crisis that threatens the future of some of the best known national treasures, according to the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Despite over a million people tuning in to Channel 4’s latest series Great British Buildings Restoration of the Year, and a new YouGov survey commissioned by RICS young people have little awareness of the specialist professions and trades essential to their preservation, suggesting that as people retire, the current skills base could be all but wiped out.
According to the survey, 91% agreed that buildings such as Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace are symbols of the country’s heritage. This sentiment is strong across all age groups with 89% of 18 to 24 year-olds appreciating the importance of historic buildings.
The vast majority of the population, some 89%, also believe that that these iconic buildings should be preserved for future generations and 42% place the responsibility for maintaining them firmly at the door of the Government, while 16% say it should be industry organisations and 14% the general public.
Appreciation for historic buildings is particularly strong in West Midlands, with 65% saying that it’s very important such buildings are preserved, while 42% from Scotland say the same.
However, despite the public’s love for these buildings, the majority don’t understand the specialist skills needed to restore and preserve them. For example, 83% are not knowledgeable about what a historic building surveyor does, and 80% do not know what a roof thatcher’s job entails.
Awareness of age old building professions is fading away amongst the younger generation, with only one in 10 of those aged 18 to 24 able to describe the job of a stonemason, and only 16% knowing what a glass blower does.
This lack of awareness comes at a time when the industry as a whole is facing a skills shortage in the built environment, with figures from the latest RICS construction market survey showing that the skills gap reported by professionals across the construction sector increased from 2% in 2012 to 43% in 2016.
To ensure that these crucial skills are not lost and cherished historic buildings don’t fall into disrepair, a stronger pipeline of talent is needed and RICS says it is important that craft skills are developed in addition to the continual promotion of professional skills, as the two skillsets are intrinsically linked to create any successful construction project.
RICS is calling on the Government and industry bodies to continue to concentrate their efforts on inspiring young people to pursue a career in the sector and educate them on the importance of mastering and maintaining the skills needed to preserve our historic buildings.
‘Historically listed buildings form part of the fabric of our rich cultural heritage and today’s findings from RICS highlight that so many Brits are genuinely passionate about protecting the physical legacy that these buildings represent. I’m very pleased to be hosting Channel 4’s Restoration of the Year programme, which shines a spotlight on the care and craftsmanship behind preserving these national treasures,’ said Kevin McCloud.
Matthew Howell, RICS managing director for UK and Ireland echoed McCloud’s sentiments. ‘It’s fantastic to see that so many people care about our historic buildings, especially young people. However, without a pipeline of talent developing expertise in these specialist areas, these landmarks could be left in ruin,’ he pointed out.
‘We need the next generation to understand the role of a historic building surveyor, and the craft of a stonemason or glassblower to preserve this heritage for the future,’ he said.
‘The Government and industry bodies must continue to work together and raise awareness of the wide-range of opportunities available in the industry and create more routes into the sector for young people, including investing in quality apprenticeships that lead to roles such as qualified building surveyors who specialise in conservation projects,’ he added.