An historic buildings inspector or conservation officer advises on and promotes the conservation of the historic environment, particularly in the areas of long-term care, preservation and enhancement.

Also, sometimes known as conservators, their work is with listed buildings or buildings within conservation areas, so the conservation officer role has many similarities with that of a historic buildings inspector in government - the two often work together.

Conservation professionals often deal with buildings and places not controlled through listing and advise on where these or other policy measures or controls might be put in place to secure conservation to appropriate standards.

Their role includes helping to protect and enhance all forms of buildings including churches, windmills, lighthouses and residential properties. They report and advise on buildings, structures and areas of special historic, architectural or artistic interest.

They guide new developments in order to maintain the distinctive character of an area; up to a third of planning applications submitted involve conservation issues. They may also be involved in regeneration projects that have community, economic and environmental benefits.

Other job titles include historic environment or building conservation professionals or specialists.

Responsibilities

Tasks vary depending on the employing organisation and type of role, but typically involve:

  • visiting sites, inspecting and surveying historic sites and buildings;
  • assessing and recommending buildings and areas for conservation and producing area appraisals and schedules of work;
  • representing conservation issues to planning and development policymakers both locally and nationally;
  • advising on planning applications and guiding new developments that affect the repair or alteration of historic buildings, areas and sites;
  • getting involved in regeneration projects that have heritage, community, economic and environmental benefits;
  • working alongside heritage and conservation groups, as well as local and national government agencies to develop policies and strategies on building conservation;
  • canvassing public opinion and dealing with public enquiries, providing information as required;
  • providing advice and consultation to residents, landowners, councils and other bodies, which can be in the form of formal reports, writing leaflets, arranging displays and giving talks;
  • planning and supervising long-term environmental projects;
  • giving advice and preparing reports as required on the condition, future prospect and potential of sites or buildings;
  • estimating restoration and conservation costs;
  • finding suppliers and craftspeople who have the skills and materials required to carry out work in keeping with the age of the building;
  • sourcing and applying for grants to help fund conservation work;
  • ensuring that all work complies with internationally accepted conservation standards and national legislation and policy, including health and safety guidelines;
  • assisting with enforcement action to protect threatened buildings or conservation areas.

Salary

  • The range of typical starting salaries falls between £22,000 and £27,000.
  • Those with experience and/or qualifications typically earn £26,000 to £36,000.
  • Salaries at senior level, for example as head of conservation, usually range between £40,000 and £60,000.

Salaries vary considerably according to the location, sector and size of the employing organisation, with salaries normally higher in London. Higher earnings are possible with progression to senior management or head of department positions.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Working hours vary according to the role and the sector. Working hours in the public sector are usually 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, working a 35 to 40-hour week. Flexi-time and other benefits, including a final salary pension scheme, are sometimes available. In the private sector, hours are more likely to vary, with extra hours, overtime and weekend working possible.

Part-time work or career breaks may be possible in some organisations.

What to expect

  • Although usually based in offices, much of the work can be outdoors and on-site. Site visits and inspections are conducted outside in all weathers.
  • There may be considerable travel within a working day, and absence from home overnight may occasionally be necessary. A company car is not usually offered, but mileage for site visits may be payable.
  • Jobs exist throughout the UK, although work is likely to be regional with historic buildings inspectors based in regional centres of government or public bodies, conservation officers or their equivalent based in local authorities across the UK, and private sector conservation professionals also distributed across the UK.
  • Opportunities for work or travel overseas is uncommon, but may be available for trainees, those up-skilling from other professions, or for experienced professionals involved in special projects organised by professional bodies.
  • Self-employment or freelance work is increasingly common as local authorities outsource public services. For experienced professionals, there are increasing opportunities for historic building consultancy.
  • Although women continue to be under-represented in the construction sector, half of the members of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC) are female and this figure is expected to rise.
  • A reasonable level of fitness and mobility is required as the work can be physically demanding. Site inspections may involve working at heights, climbing ladders or visiting sites where access is difficult.
  • Appropriate safety equipment, such as protective boots and headgear, must be worn on-site.
  • The dress code tends to be diverse, but conservative for meetings, and it can be expected that people in this profession are smartly dressed even when visiting sites.

Qualifications

Although this career is open to all graduates, a degree or HND in one of the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • archaeology or history;
  • architectural history;
  • architecture;
  • building conservation;
  • building or construction;
  • civil/structural engineering;
  • heritage management;
  • landscape architecture or urban design;
  • planning;
  • surveying.

Many entrants have built environment backgrounds, e.g. in architecture, planning and surveying, and then go on to specialise in the conservation of the historic environment. However, a significant minority are from a humanities background, e.g. history or architectural history.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible, especially through the planning technician route from where it is possible to move across into historic buildings inspector or conservation officer roles through experience and extra training.

Although not essential, a postgraduate qualification can be highly advantageous in what is a quite specialist and competitive field. The large number of volunteers in this sector means that the search for a paid position is even more intense. Completing further study will not guarantee a job but it will improve your chances.

However there may be limited funding available so you will need to weigh up the cost of additional study. Check to make sure a course is accredited or 'recognised' to meet the skills, knowledge and experience requirements of the IHBC.

IHBC qualifications are based on internationally recognised standards, and so membership of the IHBC is usually a requirement for jobs in this field. The IHBC offers affiliate membership opportunities for full-time students and reduced rates for those on a low income.

It is also advisable to attend training events run by specialist bodies such as the IHBC and The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). These organisations run a number of short training courses and technical professional development events, with many open to non-members, which can provide network-building opportunities. For details of training opportunities in the heritage sector, see the National Heritage Training Group.

Each year SPAB offers three or four nine-month Lethaby Scholarships for young building professionals, specifically architects, engineers and building surveyors. It also runs the six-month William Morris Craft Fellowships for up to four qualified building craftsmen who work on historic buildings. Both of these consist of a training programme organised by SPAB.

While it is not uncommon for some jobs to be filled through speculative applications and word of mouth, especially with small organisations or in the voluntary sector, most substantial professional posts are advertised on the IHBC website.

Skills

You will need to show evidence of the following:

  • a strong interest in, and knowledge of, historic architecture, building methods and techniques;
  • knowledge of relevant legislation relating to buildings and conservation;
  • confidence working with measurements and budget calculations;
  • excellent communication skills, both written and oral and the ability to liaise effectively with a range of other professionals;
  • good analytical skills, accuracy and attention to detail;
  • an eye for design, the ability to sketch designs and plans and an understanding of technical drawings;
  • organisational skills and a methodical approach to work;
  • negotiation skills;
  • project management skills;
  • the ability to produce clear and concise reports;
  • strong team-working skills;
  • good IT skills.

In addition, a driving licence is usually required.

Work experience

Most employers look for candidates with experience so relevant work experience, gained through vacation or sandwich placements, is advantageous, particularly if your degree is not directly relevant.

Experience gained through voluntary work is also valued by employers. Volunteers are welcomed by organisations and national amenity societies such as the:

Employers

Building conservation is a relatively small field, but there are opportunities across both the public and private sectors, with jobs all over the country, although competition for jobs can be fierce.

Amenity societies, such as the Victorian Society, which is a national charity dedicated to specific buildings, offers opportunities for volunteering, which can be helpful for gaining some experience at the beginning of your career.

Currently, around half of the members of the IHBC work in the private sector. A selection of private sector employers is listed by the Historic Environment Service Providers Recognition (HESPR) scheme.

Most local authorities employ at least one historic buildings inspector or conservation officer, usually in the planning department. English Heritage is the government's statutory advisor on the historic environment, and there are other public agencies such as:

The National Trust and the National Trust for Scotland are also substantial employers of conservation professionals.

Opportunities exist in the construction industry, working for specialist historic building contractors, or for private practices specialising in conservation.

For experienced professionals there may be the opportunity for consultancy work, or teaching in higher and further education.

Look for job vacancies at:

Organisations generally recruit graduates directly rather than through recruitment agencies, although they are still a useful source of vacancies.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Training for historic building conservation officers often occurs in the workplace, but it is essential to keep abreast of legislation, compliance and reporting requirements through training and continuous professional development (CPD), in line with the membership requirements and standards of the IHBC.

Attending internal and external training courses, relevant seminars and conferences is an effective way of keeping up to date with current issues and refreshing knowledge.

There are a number of specialised courses and further qualifications for those who want to develop their knowledge, and these also provide opportunities for professionals to further their career in new areas. For details of training opportunities in the heritage sector, see the National Heritage Training Group.

The IHBC website has a list of recognised postgraduate degrees and professional training courses, which are available on a full-time or part-time basis. The IHBC is also closely involved in developing National Occupational Standards for conservation professionals with CITB.

Graduates with postgraduate degrees approved by the IHBC, who have been in relevant employment for a minimum period of two years, or anyone with five years' relevant experience, can apply to become full members of the Institute. This involves completing a testimonial that must be written up in accordance with the IHBC's professional standard incorporating the Areas of Competence.

The IHBC requires its members to undertake a minimum of 50 hours' professional development over a rolling two-year period. Members plan their own training needs on the basis of a personal development assessment related to the Institute's areas of competence.

A number of short training courses and technical professional development events, including two annual six-day courses of lectures for professionals in the industry are run by the SPAB.

Relevant professional bodies with built environment interests, such as the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE) and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), have dedicated groups for conservation specialists, and membership of a body relevant to your background and area of expertise is important for addressing your training and career development needs.

For information on gaining accreditation with relevant bodies see Understanding Conservation.

Career prospects

Typically, a career path will begin in a trainee position at conservation officer level in a local authority (LA), although entry may be possible at technician level in departments such as planning.

The public sector offers good opportunities for career development and LAs have well-established promotion routes to more senior posts. This may include becoming a senior inspector/conservation officer or management of a team of cross-functional conservation professionals, including surveyors, heritage managers and building control officers.

Increasingly, the careers of those working in the private sector are following a similar path, also including periods of employment in dedicated heritage organisations, such as amenity societies or national heritage agencies.

Conservation professionals may work in national government organisations such as:

  • Cadw: Welsh Historic Monuments
  • English Heritage
  • Historic Environment Scotland

Alternatively, they may work in other conservation organisations such as the:

  • National Trust
  • National Trust for Scotland

Due to the specialist nature of this industry, low turnover of staff may require relocation to achieve career progression and it is common for professionals in this industry to move between local authorities and the private and/or voluntary sector in order to gain broader experience and seek more senior positions.

In the private sector, there are opportunities to advance through the company structure or move to a larger organisation in order to gain promotion.

Becoming a full member of the IHBC and undertaking agreed levels of continuing professional development (CPD) is a key part of career development and will facilitate progression to more senior posts.

There are opportunities to move into lecturing work in universities, and consultancy work is also available for conservation professionals with substantial experience and industry contacts. This is likely to focus on advisory cultural evaluation and design work.