We discuss Building Conservation with Subject Leader Catherine Woolfitt

We discuss Building Conservation with Catherine Woolfitt ACR MCIfA MA Classics MA Art Conservation - Subject Leader Historic Building Conservation and Repair.

Q: You started your career as an archaeologist - what attracted you to historic building conservation?

A: Initially my interest was in the conservation of ruins, building remains on archaeological sites. I became fascinated with Greek and Roman remains from perusing picture books given to me as a child and went on to study classical archaeology. I wanted to study the conservation of ancient monuments and historic buildings, and I was curious about materials and structures. I ended up studying art (objects) conservation, as this was the only post graduate conservation programme available in Canada at that time. Fortunately, after re-locating to the UK, I was able to pursue my interest in building conservation through work experience here and abroad.

Q: Do students need to be working in building conservation already to do one of the Building Conservation Masterclasses?

A: Prior experience of work in the building conservation sector is not essential, provided a student has an interest in historic structures and willingness to engage in the subject. Students from a wide range of backgrounds attend, from designers and specifiers, like architects and engineers, to those engaged in traditional building crafts, such as stonemasonry and plaster work . Many have some experience in the field, but some have no prior knowledge. Others come from areas allied to conservation, such as archaeology, art conservation and management of historic estates.

The emphasis is on practical work and experience, supported by an understanding of materials and structures, their characteristics and weathering in an external environment. Students often mention that meeting others with similar interests and being able to share and discuss work experience is an important part of the courses.

Q: What do you think 2019 will look like for the sector?

Colleagues working in both practical and professional capacities are looking forward to a very busy year, and that includes other tutors on the BCM courses.

There is always a shortage of skills across the building conservation sector, especially the essential traditional craft skills like roofing, stone masonry, brick working, plastering and lime work in general. I think there is a gap in professional and craft training, in understanding traditional building materials, their properties and how to use them. The BCM courses aim to fill that gap and provide the skills and knowledge that will give students a good grounding in the sector.

Also, sustainability is increasingly important across so many sectors and conservation of the built heritage is a fundamental part of that.

Q: The Building Conservation Masterclasses (BCM) are run in partnership with Historic England - what is the benefit of this to students?

The BCMs follow the standards set out in Historic England guidance, notably in the Practical Building Conservation publications. Students will learn current principles and practice and be equipped to carry out work to the highest standards, in line with statutory guidance and protection of historic buildings and ancient monuments.

Many tutors work for or with Historic England and the BCMs present a great opportunity to learn from them and discuss their experience.

Q: At what stage do students study for the Professional Development Diploma in Historic Building Conservation and Repair?

Students attend at all stages of career development from those at the early stages, for example who have recently finished study in a related area, to those at mid-career who want to update or sometimes change career path altogether. Often students return, even after completion of the Professional Development Diploma, for further CPD, to keep up to date on developments.

Q: Is there any funding available to those applying to attend the BCM courses?

There are Drake Trust bursaries which can provide help with funding. These are intended especially for students who have no corporate sponsorship or who are currently engaged in building conservation studies or planning such a course of study. Anyone intending to apply for a BCM course should ask about the Drake Trust bursary at the same time (contact [email protected] to apply).