Training for the Future with the HLF

The conservation of our heritage depends on the availability of people with the necessary skills and specialist knowledge required.

In recent years there has been a flood of studies indicating that there is a widening gap between the number of skilled craftspeople and the demand for their services, particularly for the maintenance and repair of traditionally constructed buildings.

These include annual surveys by the Construction Industry Training Board highlighting skills shortages in the UK construction industry as a whole, and specific reports on those of the heritage sector by English Heritage, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and the National Heritage Training Group (NHTG).

The most recent of these studies, the NHTG’s Traditional Building Crafts Skills – Assessing the Needs, Meeting the Challenge (2005) indicated that the number of skilled craftsmen working in the built heritage sector would need to rise by approximately eight per cent to meet the existing demand.

Problems were more acute in some of the more specialised trades, and the report highlighted a distinct lack of younger workers and trainers throughout the sector, suggesting that problems were likely to become more acute in the future.

This article outlines three initiatives which are being supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and which are most relevant to those responsible for the conservation of historic places of worship.


Primary responsibility for looking after our historic places of worship almost invariably falls to volunteers with little or no specialist training to do this work. Yet between them, they are responsible for nearly half of our most important listed buildings.

For the clergy, church wardens, members of the parochial church council (PCC) and other representatives of the congregation who rise to the challenge it is essential that they have at least a general understanding of the conservation issues and principles at stake. This is because they have a crucial role in all the decisions, including the appointment (and if necessary, the dismissal) of consultants, contractors and others.

Churchwardens of the Church of England, for example, are expected to ensure that the PCC carries out its responsibilities for the care, maintenance and insurance of the church building and its contents, and for the fencing of the churchyard. These include maintaining ‘quinquennial inspections‘ (the inspections of the church made by an architect or chartered surveyor every five years), and the churchwardens are expected to be familiar with the recommendations made in the inspection report.

Most dioceses of the Church of England offer training days for church wardens and others, which are also often open to members of other denominations. In addition to these, from 2007 a new training programme will help churchwardens and other volunteers of all faiths to care for places of worship in England and Wales more effectively.

Supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund (with a grant of £645,000), English Heritage, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and others, 30 tailor-made regional courses will be delivered each year for five years, between them training up to 6,000 volunteers. Two courses each year will be aimed exclusively at young people. The courses will cover:

• the value and interest of places of worship
• managing their building
• traditional materials
• basic principles of historical research and interpretation • spotting potential problems
• what they can practically do themselves and when to call in a professional.

The volunteers will explore maintenance requirements, the processes of decay, health and safety issues, relationships with professional advisors and builders, how to plan ahead and how to monitor change. They will have the opportunity to adapt standard maintenance plans to suit their building, and, importantly, they will have the opportunity to meet others with similar problems in the region, to network and share experiences.

The programme is being run by the SPAB, an organisation with a long history of highly successful courses and training programmes for owners of historic buildings, craftspeople and professional consultants.


Many specialist contractors and other traditional craft-based companies find it difficult to find skilled craftsmen and women.

This £7 million Heritage Lottery Fund one-off scheme is designed to provide an incentive for companies to take on and retrain people who already have related skills. Several schemes are now being established within the heritage field, and two of these are relevant to the conservation of historic places of worship and other historic buildings.

A ‘Traditional Building Skills Bursary Scheme for England and Wales’ programme is being run by English Heritage in partnership with Cadw, the National Trust, Construction Skills and the National Heritage Training Group, with the help of a £900,000 HLF grant.

A similar programme, supported with a £1 million HLF grant from, is being run by Historic Scotland to teach masonry skills to 154 people in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Under the Traditional Building Skills programme for England and Wales, up to 80 bursaries will be offered over the next four years for people who are already working in the building industry and who are already skilled to NVQ level 2 (or its equivalent) to help them acquire the necessary skills to work within the traditional crafts and built heritage sector.

The trainers will be placed with existing contractors and specialist companies working in the relevant field and who have agreed to provide the training required. The placements will be of varying length, for example:

• 16 short placements of one month
• 48 lasting three to six months
• 16 of six months to two years.

English Heritage is currently engaged in discussions with potential placement providers, and the first placements are expected to be announced early in 2007. These are being selected to target recognised skills shortages and gaps in the traditional construction skills, including the following trades:

• blacksmithing
• brick masonry
• carpentry and joinery
• electrical and plumbing
• dry stone walling
• earth building
• fibrous plastering
• flint working
• ironwork
• lime mortar
• lime plaster
• painting and decorating
• stone conservation
• roofing
• wheelwrighting.

The bursary will be paid to the trainee, not the placement provider.


HLF grant schemes enable many conservation projects to proceed which would not otherwise be achievable. An inevitable side effect is that the projects they fund tend to mop up many of the most highly skilled craftsmen and women in the country.

To address this, and to tackle the more general shortage of skills in all sectors, the HLF requires all projects which apply for grants in excess of £1 million to produce a training plan. Grant schemes below £1 million may also be encouraged to produce a training plan where training is the main focus of the project or is essential to its success. Where the conservation of historic places of worship is concerned, training schemes might include, for example:

• training volunteers and contractors to manage and maintain the fabric of the building, its interior fittings and its churchyard
• providing on-the-job training for contractors, craftsmen and professionals during the course of a particular conservation project, through apprenticeships and graduate internships, or by offering work placements for local firms to develop conservation skills
• engaging the wider community in conservation through heritage skills days or work-experience placements to school or college students.

The conservation of the Great East Window of York Minster by the York Glaziers’ Trust illustrates the benefits of this approach.

This window, which retains much of its original 15th century painted glass, is arguably the largest piece of medieval art in Europe, roughly the size of a tennis court, and it is of enormous importance. The stonework is in a very fragile state and in the course of its repair and restoration all the glass will have to be removed, cleaned, repaired and re-leaded.

To ensure its long term preservation, an isothermal glazing system is to be introduced. The main restoration work could take ten years to complete, so there is a first phase which is to include:

• the removal of the glass panels and their safe storage during the project
• the establishment of Bedern Chapel as an open access workshop with visitor facilities
• the development of educational resources to maximise participation
• research into iconography and monitoring of an isothermal glazing trial
• the installation of a temporary screen replicating the window
• training apprentices and the development of a qualification structure.

In the UK there are just three training centres offering courses in stained glass making, but there are no restoration courses. Like many conservation skills, stained glass conservation relies on training in museums and specialist conservation workshops and studios on projects such as this.

The York Glazier’s Trust currently employs seven conservators, and has an ongoing requirement for more. Part of its HLF bid for the first phase of work was therefore for training two apprentices over three years. This training scheme has obvious benefits for the trust in helping it to complete the project, but it will also reduce the number of trained conservators that will have to be brought in for this project, thereby reducing the impact of the scheme on the supply of skilled conservators for other projects.

Training on projects such as this is of considerable importance to the long term supply of skilled craftsmen and women. The benefits are easily overlooked by contractors with their eyes fixed on the short term, not least because training inevitably ties up precious resources.

In a marketplace increasingly dominated by competitive tendering, making larger grants conditional on the implementation of a training programme therefore seems essential, but it is also important that the requirement should be fully embraced by contractors as an opportunity, and not as a restriction.

HLF-funded training projects apply not only to craft training, but may also be used to provide professional development opportunities for staff and volunteers in various areas of need, such as maintenance, environmental monitoring and developing the potential of the building or project as an information resource.


Recommended Reading

Churchwardens’ training, see

HLF Training Bursaries, see

HLF Training Plans, see, Publications & Info, Guidance Notes, Training Plans


The Building Conservation Directory, 2007


JONATHAN TAYLOR is the editor of The Building Conservation Directory and a co-founder of Cathedral Communications Limited. He studied architectural conservation at Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh and has a background in architectural design, conservation and urban regeneration.

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