Top tips for conserving historic buildings

Whether it’s a church, manor house, country residence, hotel or other historic building, the costs associated with conserving that property can easily spiral. Harrison Pitt Architects’ Zoe Hooton shares some top tips for protecting and restoring historic and listed buildings.

Without the right planning, attention, and most notably funding, historic buildings can easily fall into disrepair.

Building owners, whether private individuals or major organisations, need to take both a proactive approach and a long-term view of building conservation if they are to be successful.

Having worked on many historic building conservation projects, as well as studying the art of protecting ancient and listed buildings, here’s some important lessons I’ve learned.

  1. Assign responsibility for building maintenance

Without wishing to over-simplify it, looking after a historic building is a process of continuous inspection and ‘tidying-up’. If the responsibility for this process has not been delegated to a specific person or group, then there’s a bigger risk of problems arising. Sometimes, many small issues can compound to create bigger ones. This can especially be the case with churches, as they often lack the funds that private businesses have. I always advise that churches form a maintenance committee to look after the building and plan repair works. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) has some great tips for everyday historic building maintenance.

  1. Develop your own knowledge

Contact specialist organisations like SPAB who host ‘working parties’ and free courses for lay people to get involved and learn about the traditional craft of building conservation. The National Trust also has volunteer days where you can learn more about specialist skills, such as slate walling courses.

  1. Build a network of like-minded conservationists

By joining organisations like the Victorian Society, SPAB, and the National Trust you can seek out a community who are passionate about your building and can assist with its care. They can help you spread the message about the importance of preserving your building, potentially putting you in touch with others who can help with funding or other expertise.

  1. Take the long view

Be patient and don’t panic. You don’t need to rush to come up with all the answers at once. Any alteration to a historic building can take years of preparation and research and there can be painstaking work involved, such as historic paint analysis, archaeological testing of slate origins etc. Sometimes it’s a case of making small alterations over time and monitoring progress.

  1. Get professional help

Qualified and experienced property professionals will help you formulate a clear plan for maintaining your historic building and undertaking any major restoration or improvement projects. For example, an architect that specialises in historic building conservation will be able to advise you on a wide range of matters, and will also have experience of applying for any grant funding that might be available to support your project.

Zoe Hooton is a RIBA chartered architect at Harrison Pitt Architects and has been involved in a wide range of historic building conservation projects. Harrison Pitt Architects has specific expertise in historic building conservation and heritage, including churches and other listed buildings.

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