Conservation: Where do I start?

By Aoife Murphy

The Scholarship is giving us wonderful access to beautiful buildings and crafts all over the UK. It’s difficult to choose a blog topic. Do I focus on a craft or a building or an area or a person?

As an outsider who has not grown up in the UK I have decided to write a little on my experiences and how well set up I think the UK is. How there are amazing funding bodies, sources of information and enough of a population to keep crafts alive.

SPAB Blog_AM_Working Party

SPAB Working Party in Lumsdale, Derbyshire

I have grown up in Ireland and lived in New Zealand for over 6 years. While growing up in Ireland I fell in love with old buildings near my home including an old monastic settlement in St Mullins, Borris House and Duiske Abbey in Graiguenamanagh. While studying engineering I found the most interesting projects for me involved older buildings rather than the building of new ones. Due to a recession as I was just qualifying I looked into conservation but the industry in Ireland was small and doors were firmly shut. I worked in Ireland for a while but as more and more projects went on hold I was forced to emigrate. This brought me to the opposite end of the world. A place dear to me but so far away from family and old friends.

SPAB Blog_AM_Llewyn Celyn

Works underway at the HLF0funded Landmark Trust House at Llwyn Celyn in the Brecon Beacons, Wales.

In New Zealand I saw churches such as the Sydenham Heritage Church torn down days after the earthquake in February 2011 without the church’s trust or the civil defence knowing. The church was built in 1878 which by UK standards is practically new. However by New Zealand standards it was one of the oldest buildings in the country. There was no proper assessment and no formal applications made. It was an emergency situation however and some unfortunate decisions were made. I have loved my time in Christchurch where I hope I made a considerable contribution to the repair of earthquake damaged homes.

Being on the Scholarship this year has opened my eyes to the conservation industry in the UK. There are many wonderful organisations willing to offer information such as the SPAB, the Georgian Group, the Victorian Society, the Twentieth Century Society, Historic England, the Building Limes Forum and many, many more. There are societies for amazing crafts, fellowships and scholarships to keep the industry alive and very passionate people. It’s wonderful. There are trusts set up to protect buildings, such as the Landmark Trust, as well as smaller individual ones. The Heritage Lottery Fund has managed to step in when the government stepped back to help fund a huge amount of buildings and skills. Their Places of Worship, Skills for the Future and Townscape Heritage grants to name a few have been invaluable. They have made sure that local involvement and learning has been an important part of each application, keeping an interest alive.

SPAB blog_AM_Salisbury Cathedral

A glimpse at some of the stones to be replaced at Salisbury Cathedral under the Major Repairs Programme that has lasted 30 years. Works funded by the Cathedral Trust.

I have felt so welcome coming in from abroad with little knowledge of how the system works here. I feel that although it is underfunded and that people in conservation are not particularly good at blowing their own trumpet as such, the industry is still flourishing and with so many young people interested it can only get stronger. I think we are moving away from the idea that ‘newer is better’, this can also be seen in the food, cosmetics and clothing industries. We are now seeing that whole foods, natural products and natural materials are returning. I think the conservation industry is seeing this too.

SPAB blog_AM_Scholars at Haddon Hall

Scholars Visit Haddon Hall during the Working Party in nearby Lumsdale, Derbyshire

I hope that other countries do look to how it works in the UK and I am delighted to see the likes of SPAB Ireland up and running.

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