CHERF Workshop – Construction & Conservation

High-level sector-strategies for rebuilding, recovery and resilience.

The second COVID Historic Environment Resilience Forum (CHERF) workshop, on 16th June 2020, focused on construction and conservation. Chaired by Professor Ian Baxter, Heriot-Watt University, opening remarks were provided by Euan Leitch, BEFS Director. Over 60 professionals from across the sector participated.




The workshop was attended by over 60 participants from across the heritage sector. It was chaired by Professor Ian Baxter, and enabled by BEFS, and by Maya Hoole of Historic Environment Scotland (HES).

Concerns and Solutions were posited for:

  • The future of skills, training, and apprenticeships
  • Urban redevelopment /threats to town and city centres

Support was shown for:

  • Local Government service provision
  • Repair and Maintenance agendas

Issues were raised in relation to:

  • Regulatory changes

Discussion explored:

  • Importance of place to communities
  • Rethinking heritage sector relevance
  • Information, grant funding reductions, and the impact on smaller organisations

Four speakers with different professional perspectives stimulated wider discussion:

Skills and training concerns:

Apprenticeships were highlighted as a major concern, particularly in relation to the low numbers of those training in traditional skills such as stone masonry, slating and lead-roofing. An aging workforce, and skills gaps in terms of traditional skills was difficult to address pre-COVID – and is only exacerbated by the potential for reduced: programmes, funding and apprenticeship places.

Existing workforce, and associated apprenticeships could be pulled into large infrastructure projects (Notre Dame, Glasgow School of Art, Palace of Westminster refurbishment). These skills are necessary for a wide range of projects and renovation work across the sector (such as has been highlighted by BEFS work on tenement maintenance).

Apprenticeships are employer-led, furthering concerns around the impacts of displaced apprenticeships in businesses who have gone into administration because of COVID-19.

…who is going to take people on during a recession? How can you give them the guidance and maintenance that’s required whilst upkeeping social distancing rules?  John McKinney, Scottish Traditional Building Forum

There were additional wider concerns around the impact on rural economies which often are worst affected by economic crises:

…the central belt companies are pulling skills and resources out of the Highlands and aggregating a great deal of skills far, far away from where we are. This means we have a skill drain from the Highlands which means our clients have difficulty in accessing the skills they need for care and maintenance, after the big investment has been spent. Calum Maclean, MAAC Studio Ltd

Every university and college in Scotland foresees a deficit over the next few of years. There is an expected dip in the number of graduate starts this year (2020) as many students defer. This includes an expected drop of around 40% of construction students.

Skills and Training Solutions:

The Skills Investment Plan for the Scottish construction sector developed in 2015, identified that there was a need for a multifaceted approach to apprenticeships which need to be flexible and adapt to online approaches to training. Quality and standards can be maintained or improved by adopting digital platforms to deliver training (including CPD). Whilst this initiative has not been widely adopted previously, it now seems possible as online learning has rapidly been developed and deployed in a number of fields.

There was extensive discussion around infrastructure projects and the need for them to be required to include apprenticeships and to offer training; it was stressed that where this already exists it needs to be reinforced and encouraged.

The public procurement system should focus on the development of skills and resources in certain areas. Participants stressed that there was a need to stimulate demand for training which could be achieved by Scottish Government creating a stable environment and allowing businesses to invest in the long-term development of future skills, which would in turn feed the need for college courses.

The commercial archaeology sector has adapted well to, and is confident in the face of the COVID environment. This sector has many lessons to share in terms of health and safety practices, sustainability, innovation and health and wellbeing.

There are jobs for graduates in commercial archaeology but the sector needs support from universities to ensure there isn’t a skill shortage in the future. Many lessons can be learnt from the experiences that the archaeological sector learnt whilst it built out of the last recession in 2008, and that this can be an opportunity to redevelop the delivery of training.

Examples of good practice included the Stove Network’s work in Dumfries; The Ridge conservation and building apprenticeships in Dunbar; and, as an example of successfully providing flexibility, the shared apprenticeship scheme run by Dundee & Angus College (Shared Apprentice Ltd).

Challenges: development/re-development with focus on towns and city centres

There was concern around the threat to town and city centres: The Church of Scotland may speed-up their asset disposal programme as online worship proves successful; the hospitality sector faces financial viability issues; online retail is more popular than ever; whilst the wider move to home working may result in less demand for office space. These structural changes, which have been growing for some time are now accelerated by COVID-19.

There is also very little incentive for landlords as, while buildings are empty they are often exempt from rates and other charges, and remain on the balance sheet as an investment. A radical change of approach at government level could incentivise change.

Commercial developers are likely to be more risk averse post-COVID. Working with the historic environment can introduce extra elements of uncertainty, so developers would need to see that the conversion and redevelopment of a historic building was viable before they would take on that risk.

Potential: Urban development/re-development with focus on towns and city centres

The renovation of buildings in town and city centres into housing could help address the housing shortage in Scotland, whilst preserving our existing built environment in areas already connected to transport infrastructure. The infrastructure commission has recently highlighted that the most carbon efficient building is one that already exists. Conversion work undertaken by SME contractors could support local economies through sourcing labour and material locally.

The Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum (CICV) and the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre, are working on determining the economic multipliers for construction work, anecdotally the multipliers are greater for repair and maintenance to older buildings, and also through SME employers. Any potential economic stimulus package from the UK Governments could create much needed local economic benefit by regenerating town centres, and creating housing.

… the power of grants should not be underestimated by the Scottish Government and they really should be encouraged not to see these as benefitting the owners from a commercial resale value but benefitting the city in terms of maintaining the use of properties for residential and in some senses minor commercial activity. Jocelyn Cunliffe, AHSS

In Edinburgh there has already been a lot of conversion of historic buildings. The planning authority considers approaches, such as change-of-use, which may prevent older buildings from being lost. However, regulations on use-type and planning restrictions in city centres could need to be reconsidered.

As a sector we need to both encourage and educate developers. This can be done by demonstrating the potential of an asset whilst advising on the limitations, building proper design and development briefs informed by conservation, and engaging with local planning authorities at an early stage. These measures can help to de-risk and make projects involving historic buildings more viable. However, encouraging developers to invest in additional costs at an early stage may be difficult in the current economic climate.

Support for local government

Extra support is needed for the local government planning authorities. Local council archaeology officers are essential for facilitating the £220 million subsector of development management within commercial archaeology. While the commercial archaeology sector has quickly adapted to the COVID-19 situation, it is dependent on local authorities.

Unlike many of their colleagues, the over-whelming majority of archaeologists working in planning, particularly in Local Authority Archaeology Services, have not been furloughed and have been facilitating the planning process, protection of our heritage, and aiding the economy.  Andy Heald, AOC Archaeology

There will be increased pressures on local government as new planning applications, as well as archaeological finds, paper records and samples from Government backed infrastructure projects appear as projects restart in Scotland. These pressures will be exaggerated if we see the closure of museums and other local amenities with Local Authorities expected to take on the care of these additional collections and buildings.

Repair and Maintenance

In relation to building a greener future, the Scottish Housing Condition Survey found that 57% of Scotland’s homes are not wind and watertight (which increases significantly for older building stock). As a result, these buildings cannot fulfil their energy efficiency potential. These existing buildings need investment in repair and maintenance.

There were concerns that budget cuts both across estates such as HES, NTS as well as NHS, and throughout the sector, would mean that there was less investment in repair and maintenance, which may lead to an increased number of buildings at risk.

There is significant potential for economic benefits through skilled work, providing local economic recovery if both repair and maintenance, as well as a programme of appropriate environmental enhancements were considered as part of economic regenerative measures.

In contrast, numerous sites have suffered significant deterioration due to increased tourism in recent years (such as the impact of the ‘Outlander effect’ at HES properties like the Clava Cairns). However, this enforced closure period may give these sites respite, whilst new approaches to managing visitor numbers are considered.

Regulatory changes

There was significant concern that existing regulatory processes that have been put in place to protect the historic environment may be reviewed in order to speed up development in the name of boosting the economy.

Whilst the sector was keen to be supportive of, and contribute to, the construction agenda – that support must not come at the cost to national performance areas around environmental goals and sustainability agendas.

The danger in the context of a recession is that … there will be increased pressure on governments to come up with both short term and longer-term approaches to making building easier at the cost of squeezing those environmental and sustainable development concerns. Rob Lennox, Chartered Institute for Archaeologists

Important of place to communities

Rural living, reinforced by an increased move to home working, may become more popular. However, historical evidence suggests that humans return to the social hubs that urban centres offer after major incidents. Much can be learnt by examining large-scale natural catastrophes, such as New Orleans post hurricane Katrina; where there was a huge resurgence in city centre living, community pride and a renewed interest in city centres.

… even in the years post Katrina you saw this resurgence of pride, Fleur-de-lis everywhere, everyone just absolutely loved their city again because they almost lost it. Tyler Lott, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Although the pandemic has not destroyed heritage, it has separated people from it, and we may see a resurgence in interest as people can interact with it again. The heritage sector can play an essential role in empowering and engaging communities with regeneration of their areas.

The pandemic has seen lots of examples of communities pulling together. We wondered if this could be harnessed to encourage more community of adoption of heritage assets and allow empowerment at a local level to get maximum return of investment of money in smaller organisations who are a little bit more nimble on their feet who may be able to react to the needs at local level… William Napier, Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings

Issues around properties being bought on behalf of communities, using taxpayer’s money, where the money, which is usually the purchase price, goes to the private owners not the community, were raised. There is an argument that there is a greater need for public money after the purchase. There was discussion around the related topic of land value capture, and the lack of engagement from the heritage sector with this topic. There is a need for the heritage sector to become more active in those larger political narratives around taxation if we are seeking significant change.

Rethinking the relevance of the heritage sector

The current approach to heritage was proposed as too narrow and that our current situation was a chance to break down siloed practices and encourage organisations to talk to each other and to actively collaborate. Heritage businesses should be encouraged to look beyond the limits of ticketing, events and cafes to make income and to find ways of securely making money.

There is a need to consider the relevance of the heritage sector to public health and wellbeing, and that we should be looking at how we can contribute to both recovery and to equity within society. Heritage can be instrumental to these wider issues. The Waterloo Uncovered project was highlighted as an example where military personnel suffering from PTSD have engaged with archaeology as a therapeutic process.

#BLM (Black Lives Matter) was also raised as there is a high level of engagement with heritage that’s shifting from established discourse. The heritage sector needs to enable, encourage and engage with these conversations.

Information, grant funding, and the impact on organisations

One of the key threats facing the sector is where smaller organisations and individuals are reliant on funding from public and third sector bodies.

There was an urgent call to action for larger bodies to provide clear information, even if it was a ‘best guess’, so that individuals and smaller organisations can be agile and can appropriately plan ahead. It was recognised that it was difficult to provide figures as key bodies do not know themselves what the funding settlement may be from Scottish Government. Hesitation risks losing talented, experienced, individuals and organisations – this will have a catastrophic impact on the sector.


List will be updated as more information is released in relation to construction and conservation.

OrganisationKey Document
Advisory Group on Economic RecoveryAGER Report
BEFS – Tenement Maintenance Scottish Parliamentary Working Group on Tenement Maintenance
Construction Industry Coronavirus Forum
Church of Scotland – Land & Estate Survey work
Construction Scotland Innovation Centre
Cultural PoliciesThe Compendium of Cultural Policies & Trends:
DCMS Cultural Renewal Taskforce
DeloitteScottish Government have been examining Deloitte future scenarios
EuropeanaEuropean Heritage Alliance Manifesto for Cultural Heritage:
Historic Environment ScotlandMinimum Operating Standards for Property Management and Visitor Operations
Historic Environment Scotland Sector survey results
Historic Environment Scotland – Policy Forum HES is currently looking at the re-prioritisation of policy/guidance work to take into account the current circumstance. Email:
Historic Environment Scotland HES 6 month Action Plan
Infrastructure Commission
Office for National StatisticsFigures for GDP drop
OPIT Built Heritage Investment GroupSustainable Investment Toolkit (draft):
OPIT Built Heritage Investment Plan Diagram demonstrates the Value of the Historic Environment to the National Performance Framework
Ridge Project
Scottish Government – Construction Guidance
Scottish Government – Tourism GuidanceGuidance for Tourism and Hospitality opening. 18 June 2020
Scottish Government – Culture StrategyNational Cultural Partnership forming under Scotland’s Culture Strategy
Scottish Government - Framework for decision making
Scottish House Condition Survey
Scottish Land Commission
Shared Apprentice Scheme
Skills Investment Plan (SIP) - Construction
Skills Investment Plan (SIP) – Historic EnvironmentHistoric Environment SIP
STOVE Project
Waterloo Uncovered