Caring & conserving

Education and training

Matthew Slocombe By Matthew Slocombe Published 11 February, 2013

Matthew Slocombe is Director of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and author of the Shire book ‘Traditional Building Materials’.

Short courses for enthusiasts

Learning about the historic environment and its conservation is often best approached through a short course.  Many are offered, by charitable organisations, public sector bodies and commercial firms. They help enthusiasts or owners wishing to gain some understanding of the issues and practices in the field.  Examples including the weekend courses of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings,  Essex County Council’s traditional building courses and those of the Weald and Downland Open Air Museum in West Sussex.   Beyond these general introductory sessions, more specialist training is sometimes offered.  Courses on the use of traditional lime-based materials are popular and available in most regions.   

For those wishing to understand landscapes, the University of the third Age (U3A) offers an online introductory course on British Garden History and there are many short introductions to archaeology, run by academic institutions such as the University of York’s Department of Archaeology.  The Workers Educational Association and local colleges run evening classes with a wide range of environmental and historical themes.   As part of its HELM programme, Historic England provides free training courses for those involved in heritage decision-making within local authorities and similar bodies.

Short courses for professionals or those wishing to deepen knowledge

Short course are also run on a wide variety of specific topics, from traditional gauged brickwork masterclasses, run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings with Historic Royal Palaces,  to the Nautical Archaeological Society's introduction to Foreshore and Underwater Archaeology.   West Dean College in West Sussex offers courses ranging from Managing Wildlife on Historic Monuments to Masonry Cleaning and specialist organisations like the Lead Sheet Association frequently provide training and continuing professional development.  Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education runs a range of short courses for professionals in collaboration with Historic England:  subjects range from Managing the Industrial Heritage to Policing the Past.

Involving young people

Some clubs and groups exist to encourage interest in heritage among young people.  Examples include the SPAB Mills Section's Young Millers and the Council for British Archaeology's Young Archaeologists ClubCSV Heritage Camps runs summer volunteering events for young people at Cathedrals and other places of worship.  Other organisations, such as the National Trust and English Heritage run special events for young people at their properties.

Undergraduate and postgraduate training

A wide range of courses exists in conservation-related subjects. These days, many people involved professionally with historic environment work have a postgraduate qualification.  For building conservation, highly regarded post graduate courses included those of the Ironbridge Institute,  Oxford Brookes University and the Architectural Association.   York University’s Department of Archaeology provides a range of archaeological courses, as do other institutions which can be explored through the archaeological Training Online Resource Centre (TORC) .  A wide selection of garden history courses is included in the Garden History Society’s website.  For conservators The Institute of Conservation (ICON) sets out options.  Courses in architectural and social history are available from many institutions, including the Cambridge Masters in Building History which is a new collaboration between Historic England and the university.

Professionals and Professional Associations 

A number of professional associations have groups, courses or accreditation schemes for those specialising in conservation work.    For architects, conservation accreditation schemes are provided by the register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC) and by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).  Similarly the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors has a conservation group and accreditation scheme, as does the Institution of Structural Engineers.   ICON, the Institute for Conservation, has information about the Professional Accreditation of Conservator-Restorers and keeps a register of those accredited.   The Royal Town Planning Institute, RTPI does not have a conservation accreditation scheme, but has many members with historic environment skills and provides conservation training for professionals.  Planning advice, including information on Neighbourhood Planning, can be obtained through Planning Aid.             

Builders and  Craftspeople

There are many builders and craftspeople with specialist knowledge of historic buildings and sites.  Identifying those with specialist skills can be difficult, but a good place to start may be the SPAB’s free technical advice helpline, which can offer suggestions with a demonstrable track record in such work.  Similarly, some council conservation officers may be prepared to offer suggestions of builders and craftspeople.   The SPAB’s William Morris Craft Fellowship scheme offers training for craftspeople.  National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are  available for most traditional crafts, from stonemasonry to stained glass.  The National Heritage Ironwork Group offers a blacksmiths’ bursary training programme.  There are also professional associations, such as Lead Sheet Association, which offers training at various levels. 


For more information about education and training in the conservation field, the following website offer useful advice and links

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB)

Council for British Archaeology (CBA)

Garden History Society (GHS)

Conference on Training in Architectural Conservation (COTAC)

Institute for Conservation (ICON)

National Heritage Training Group  (NHTG)

Institution of Structural Engineers

Institute for Archaeologists

National Heritage Ironwork Group