Sustainable Conservation - PAYE
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Sustainable Conservation

Sustainable Conservation

Anything that is part of an ongoing process ad infinitum needs to find a way of becoming sustainable. The conservation of built structure is no exception and to this end, processes need to be developed to allow maintainable, cost effective solutions to be implemented.

In essence, Sustainable Conservation could be considered a more targeted and in turn cost effective approach to managing heritage assets. By its very nature, it attempts to target cyclical and planned maintenance to keep properties in a ‘sustainable condition’, avoiding the often expensive and sometimes unnecessary repeated expenditure of reactive intervention.

Sustainable Conservation is a key directive and a priority approach for governing bodies such as English Heritage, who have guardianship of some of the most nationally (and in some cases internationally) significant historic buildings and monuments in the country.

Over the last 3 years, and during phased works completed for English Heritage at Bishops Waltham Palace, Pevensey Castle and Reculver Towers, much has been centred around the clearance of encroaching vegetation and the consolidation of masonry – so that these properties can then be much more easily maintained. By definition, repairs can be described as the restoration works needed for when something gets broken, damaged or stops working. Whereas maintenance covers the routine activities meant to prevent damage and prolong the life of an asset before any repair becomes necessary. This work can be seen in greater detail within both of the attached Case Studies included in this issue and in the works completed between 2018 and 2020 at Pevensey (see link to previous issue).

It is essential, following works like this, that robust maintenance regimes are introduced, otherwise the risk of regrowth once again leads to the need for repeated intervention. Small but regular works, being preferable to large scale project work every decade or so.

The key to a sustainable conservation approach is a strategic, evidence-based assessment of buildings and monuments, which then informs priority for repair and any long-term maintenance programme.

We understand the process to encapsulate;

  • Planning and undertaking regular condition surveying.
  • The ranking and scoring of each asset. Highlighting significance, vulnerability and condition – which provides the ‘strategic evidence-based assessment’ previously referred to.
  • Prioritising works to the more significant assets of each property, rather than attempting to complete all works; which may not be feasible.
  • Focusing on defects which may make an object/structure unsafe or unstable – leading to further deterioration/loss of significance.
  • Addressing the cause, not the symptoms.

The approach also supports community engagement, with voluntary groups encouraged to help undertake the less ‘specialist’ tasks (generally, this will mean helping with vegetation removal around an object without direct contact with it), which are suited to be completed on an ongoing basis – again minimising the risks of more catastrophic failure. An important part of this is communicating the specific aims of the approach and tailoring it to the individual project or asset. This process allows new audiences to engage in volunteering activities whilst learning about, enjoying and valuing their local heritage. According to an EH paper found on ‘The Value of Conserving Heritage: benefits of community involvement for the historic environment’ just under 1% of the UK adult population, or 450,000 undertake voluntary works in the heritage sector. As an available resource therefore, this has enormous opportunity in helping maintain a sustainable historic environment.

To summarise, as an approach, ‘Sustainable Conservation’ challenges the assumption that ALL works need to be addressed to achieve a successful conservation outcome by targeting only those works which threaten to undermine the longevity of an asset. By careful review and management, small preventative works can be undertaken routinely (and at much reduced cost) over reactive repair works which are not only more expensive, but left untreated can threaten to damage an asset irreversibly.

PAYE have a team of experienced masons who undertake these key roles to projects with an understanding of significance, materials and construction – allowing for regular maintenance to become a cost-effective way to manage historic sites.

Author: Spencer Hall ACR IHBC MCIOB PGDip HBC
Conservation Consultant | PAYE