Building Conservation Officer

The Job and What's Involved

Historic buildings are an important part of our heritage. As well as providing valuable evidence for the way people in the past lived and worked, they help to preserve the character of our cities, towns and villages. Building conservation officers help to protect and enhance buildings as diverse as houses, churches, windmills, lighthouses and factories, ensuring they survive for future generations to learn from and enjoy.

The work may involve:

  • Inspecting and surveying buildings.
  • Writing reports on the condition of the buildings.
  • Recommending buildings for conservation.
  • Producing a schedule of the conservation work that is required.
  • Finding suppliers and craftspeople able to work with traditional building materials.
  • Estimating costs of the conservation work.
  • Applying for grants and other funding.
  • Making sure that all work complies with legislation, including health and safety guidelines.
  • Giving advice on building conservation to owners, architects, heritage groups and other bodies.
  • Giving presentations to explain and promote building conservation.

Some building conservation officers are part of a small team, but many work alone. They may work alongside local and national government agencies, and heritage and conservation groups.

Building conservation officers usually work standard office hours, from Monday to Friday. Travel to sites may involve early starts and late finishes.

Building conservation officers are usually based in offices, but spend much of their time visiting buildings. This can involve working outdoors in all weather conditions, and in buildings that are in a poor state of repair. Work environments are likely to be dirty and dusty, and projects may include working at heights and in confined spaces. Bending, crouching, stretching and climbing ladders may be required.

When on site, conservation officers wear protective clothing, including a hard hat and safety boots.

A driving licence may be useful for travelling to buildings.

Starting salaries may range from around £18,000 to £26,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Building conservation is a relatively small field, although opportunities are growing as more organisations provide funding for conservation projects. There are opportunities throughout the UK.

Employers include:

  • Local authority planning departments
  • English Heritage
  • The National Trust
  • Historic Scotland
  • Cadw (the historic environment service of the Welsh Assembly)
  • Department of Environment Northern Ireland

Special interest groups such as the Georgian Group and Victorian Society may also employ a limited number of building conservation officers.

Vacancies may be advertised in local and national newspapers, on the website of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) and on specialist recruitment websites.

Education and Training

The majority of entrants are graduates. Relevant degrees include planning, building/construction, civil/structural engineering, surveying and architecture.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

A small number of universities offer specific degrees in architectural heritage and conservation, as well as building conservation and management. The IHBC lists recognised conservation and conservation-related courses on its website.

The minimum entry requirements for a degree are usually two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or the equivalent. Entry requirements may vary, so candidates should check with individual colleges or universities.

Many candidates also hold a Masters degree or postgraduate diploma. Relevant postgraduate programmes are offered by a number of universities. Applicants to postgraduate courses normally need a relevant first degree (typically a 2.1 or above).

Most employers look for candidates with previous experience. Voluntary work is available with a number of organisations in the field. For example, the National Trust has around 40,000 volunteers. The IHBC website features links to a number of conservation organisations that may need volunteers. Local authorities may be able to offer relevant work experience.

The IHBC requires its members to undertake a minimum of 50 hours' professional development every two years. It organises and supports a broad programme of professional training courses and seminars. This includes numerous regional activities and visits.

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings runs two six-day courses of lectures and visits each year. These are aimed at people who are professionally involved with old buildings.

Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A building conservation officer should:

  • Understand historic architecture, building methods and techniques.
  • Have an eye for architectural detail.
  • Be able to sketch designs and plans.
  • Have excellent communication skills.
  • Be able to work with people from a variety of backgrounds.
  • Have good negotiation skills.
  • Have project management skills.
  • Have presentation skills.
  • Be confident working with measurements and budget calculations.
  • Be able to work on their own initiative.
  • Understand legislation relating to buildings and conservation.
  • Be able to follow health and safety procedures.

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Your Long Term Prospects

A building conservation officer may be promoted to senior conservation officer or a managerial role. Promotion prospects may be limited in small organisations, and it may be necessary to change employer in order to progress.

Experienced building conservation officers may become self-employed, offering advisory and design work on a consultancy basis.

Get Further Information

Ancient Monuments Society, St Ann's Vestry Hall,
2 Church Entry, London EC4V 5HB
Tel: 020 7236 3934

The Civic Trust, Essex Hall, 1-6 Essex Street, London WC2R 3HU
Tel: 020 7539 7900

Department of Environment Northern Ireland,
Clarence Court, 10-18 Adelaide Street, Belfast BT2 8GB
Tel: 028 9054 0540

English Heritage, Customer Services Department,
PO Box 569, Swindon SN2 2YP
Tel: 0870 333 1181

The Georgian Group, 6 Fitzroy Square, London W1T 5DX
Tel: 087 1750 2936

Historic Scotland, Longmore House, Salisbury Place, Edinburgh EH9 1SH
Tel: 0131 668 8600

Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC),
Jubilee House, High Street, Tisbury, Wiltshire SP3 6HA
Tel: 01747 873133

The National Trust, PO Box 39, Warrington WA5 7WD
Tel: 0870 458 4000

The National Trust for Scotland,
Wemyss House, 28 Charlotte Square, Edinburgh EH2 4ET
0844 493 2100

The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB),
37 Spital Square, London E1 6DY
Tel: 020 7377 1644

The Society of Architectural Historians of Great Britain,
16 Barnard Terrrace, Edinburgh EH1 1JZ

The Victorian Society, 1 Priory Gardens, Bedford Park, London W4 1TT
Tel: 020 8994 1019

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