RICS warns Britain’s beloved historic buildings could fall into disrepair

Britain’s beloved historic buildings are at risk, due to a restoration skills crisis that threatens the future of some of our best-known national treasures, warns the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).

Despite over a million people tuning in to Channel 4’s latest series Great British Buildings – Restoration of the Year, and a new YouGov survey commissioned by RICS finding that 91 per cent of the British public believe historic buildings are symbolic of Britain’s heritage, young people have little awareness of the specialist professions and trades essential to their preservation, suggesting that as people retire, the current skills base could be all but wiped out.

According to the survey, 9 in 10 people (91 per cent) agreed that buildings such as Windsor Castle and Kensington Palace are symbols of the country’s heritage. This sentiment is strong across all age groups, including millennials, with 89 per cent of 18-24 year-olds appreciating the importance of historic buildings.

The vast majority of the population (89 per cent) also believe that that these iconic treasures should be preserved for future generations and place the responsibility for maintaining them firmly at the door of the government (42 per cent), followed by industry organisations (16 per cent) and the general public (14 per cent). Appreciation for historic buildings is particularly strong in West Midlands, with almost two thirds (65 per cent) saying that it’s ‘very important’ such buildings are preserved, while around 2 in 5 respondents (42 per cent) from Scotland say the same.

However, despite the public’s love for these buildings, the majority don’t understand the specialist skills needed to restore and preserve them. For example, 83 per cent are not knowledgeable about what a historic building surveyor does, and 80 per cent do not know what a roof thatcher’s job entails. Awareness of age-old building professions is fading away amongst the younger generation, with only 1 in 10 18-24 year-olds able to describe the job of a stonemason, and only 16 per cent know what a glass blower does.

This lack of awareness comes at a time when the industry as a whole is facing a skills shortage in the built environment, with the latest figures from the RICS Construction Market Survey showing that the skills gap reported by professionals across the construction sector increased from 2 per cent in 2012 to 43 per cent in 2016.

To ensure that these crucial skills are not lost and cherished historic buildings don’t fall into disrepair, a stronger pipeline of talent is needed. It’s important that craft skills are developed in addition to the continual promotion of professional skills, as the two skillsets are intrinsically linked to create any successful construction project. RICS is calling on the government and industry bodies to continue to concentrate their efforts on inspiring young people to pursue a career in the sector and educate them on the importance of mastering and maintaining the skills needed to preserve our historic buildings.

British designer and presenter, Kevin McCloud said:

“Historically listed buildings form part of the fabric of our rich cultural heritage and today’s findings from RICS highlight that so many Brits are genuinely passionate about protecting the physical legacy that these buildings represent. I’m very pleased to be hosting Channel 4’s Restoration of the Year programme, which shines a spotlight on the care and craftsmanship behind preserving these national treasures.”

Matthew Howell, RICS Managing Director for UK & Ireland said:

“It’s fantastic to see that so many people care about our historic buildings, especially young people. However, without a pipeline of talent developing expertise in these specialist areas, these landmarks could be left in ruin. We need the next generation to understand the role of a historic building surveyor, and the craft of a stonemason or glassblower to preserve this heritage for the future.

Mr Howell added:

“The government and industry bodies must continue to work together and raise awareness of the wide-range of opportunities available in the industry and create more routes into the sector for young people, including investing in quality apprenticeships that lead to roles such as qualified building surveyors who specialise in conservation projects”.