English Heritage
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English Heritage to Mobilise Volunteer Heritage Army

Volunteer surveys of Grade II buildings prove popular first step to getting involved in Heritage at Risk.

English Heritage is to launch the first crowd-sourcing project to tackle heritage at risk, it announced today (Thursday 10 October). Working with other bodies in the heritage sector and local authorities, it aims to provide the means for members of the public to volunteer to carry out surveys of England's 345,000 Grade II buildings as a first step to continued engagement in saving local heritage. The move is expected to enable thousands of passionate heritage fans to get more actively involved.

The announcement was made at the launch of the Heritage at Risk Register 2013 held in the Granary Building, a Grade II building rescued from dereliction as part of an acclaimed redevelopment of the King's Cross railway lands into a campus for the University of the Arts.

English Heritage pilot surveys run over the last year indicate that there is a vast potential army of volunteers, people from all walks of life, keen to do something about their local heritage at risk from neglect or decay. Nineteen pilots were carried out by varying combinations of councils, civic groups, consultants and volunteers. With training from English Heritage and with professionals checking the results, volunteers surveyed a total of around 5,000 Grade II buildings in both rural and urban areas all over the country.

English Heritage, together with other heritage bodies, will analyse the results of the pilots and come up with the best model for conducting surveys and an app for recording data while out on site and to make it possible for the data to be published once verified by local councils.

Simon Thurley, Chief Executive of English Heritage, said: "Today we are announcing a win / win proposition. For English Heritage it means we will eventually get, for the first time, a complete picture of the condition of all England's listed heritage. We can use this information to decide how best to deploy our national expertise to help owners and all those tackling heritage at risk on the ground. And we'll have a grass-roots network to spread understanding and appreciation of local heritage so that less of it becomes at risk in the first place.

"For the heritage sector, this will be a project in which we can all pool our expertise to best effect. Organisations such as the Architectural Heritage Fund, the Victorian Society and Civic Voice could not only run local surveys but help volunteers move on from identifying buildings at risk to doing something about them. Surveys should also prove a good way for heritage organisations to engage existing members and attract new ones.

"For councils, the Grade II surveys will mean support to help local communities engage with their heritage and the data collected can be used to prioritise scarce resources on buildings and areas most in need. Surveys could reveal areas of decline before they become apparent, be used to evaluate planning applications or spur enforcement notices. Ultimately, councils should reap the social, cultural and economic benefits that come with heritage regeneration. One pilot project even passed details of buildings found to be vacant and vulnerable to the police and fire services making them better aware of places likely to attract crime.

"For the many universities that now run heritage conservation courses, Grade II surveys could provide the practical equivalent for students to archaeology students going on digs and will help to educate a whole new generation of heritage professionals.

"For people who want to volunteer, we hope to have the first surveys ready to recruit next Autumn so if you want to register your interest contact English Heritage Customer Services. You've seen it on TV but this could be your chance to help save a historic building or improve a conservation area. You might even find yourself winning one of our coveted English Heritage Angel Awards (we'll be announcing the 2013 winners on 21st October). Or you might simply want to get out and about, make new friends and learn more about local architecture and history!

"And for owners of Grade II buildings which the surveys find to be in poor or very bad condition, this could be a lifeline to help and advice."

Results of the Grade II pilot surveys:

  • 74% of volunteers took part in order to increase their knowledge, 55% in order to make a difference, 49% gained a sense of achievement and pride and 68% would volunteer again
  • 52.4% were retired, 24.4% employed full time and 14.6% employed part time
  • 19 pilot projects surveyed a total of around 5,000 Grade II buildings from Whitehaven, South Tyneside, Hartlepool and Leeds to Worcester, Bristol and Dorset
  • each volunteer surveyed an average of 13 buildings per day and had one and a half days' training
  • 4.2% of buildings surveyed were found to be at risk and 10.1% were vulnerable (though in some pilot areas the survey concentrated on buildings that were already a cause for concern) 6% of buildings surveyed were vacant and 7% partly occupied

Partnership Rescues Make Great Progress but Cost of Repair Rises

A partnership between English Heritage and Natural England has led to the rescue and removal from the Heritage at Risk Register of 97 at risk sites all over England in the last year. The sites saved thanks to Natural England's Environmental Stewardship scheme, which rewards farmers and other owners for looking after heritage on their land, include the remains of lead mines in County Durham and Cumbria, the largest and most important Roman town in northern East Anglia, a 13th century moated manor in Staffordshire and the park and gardens of a country house in Dorset.

English Heritage gave grants totalling £10 million to 191 sites at risk last year and as always saved sites which, because privately owned or for other reasons, were not eligible for funding from other sources. English Heritage grant totalling £82.9m has been offered to Grade I and II* listed buildings and structural scheduled monuments on the Register between 1998 and 2012/13.

Last year, the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded more than £6.3m to 43 new projects that have helped address urgent works to 57 buildings on the Heritage at Risk Register. Since 1994 HLF has awarded nearly £406m to help conserve and adapt 534 individual buildings and monuments on the At Risk Register.

Overall, English Heritage's 2013 Heritage at Risk Register shows that there are now 5,700 Grade I and II* historic buildings, scheduled monuments and archaeological sites, registered parks, gardens, landscapes and battlefields, conservation areas, places of worship and protected wrecks at risk of neglect and decay. The good news is that this is down from 5,831 last year and that English Heritage is well on target to meet its challenge of removing 25% of entries from the 2010 Register by 2015.

However, despite good progress on removing entries from the Register, analysis shows that the cost of repairs has gone up. The average difference between the cost of repair and the end value of buildings on the Register now stands at £450,000. This suggests that even more creative and inspiring partnerships between owners, councils, developers and the heritage sector will be needed to find new uses for those buildings and sites that remain at risk.

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