In September the NFB’s flagship Heritage and Traditional Build Conference event took place at the Grade II* listed Charing Cross Hotel on the Strand in the City of Westminster.

This September, NFB members and colleagues attended the NFB Heritage and Traditional Build Conference at the stunning Grade II * listed Clermont Hotel in Charing Cross and we could not have had a more fitting venue for our impressive line up of speakers to talk all things heritage. The Clermont Hotel was built in 1863 by Charles and Thomas Lucas and was designed in French Rennaissance style by the architect Edward Middleton who was also the architect for the Royal Opera House. The conference was held in the stunning Ballroom which had the ’wow’ factor with its full height panelling, ornate sculpted ceiling, stained glass windows and imposing marbled pillars that added grandeur to the occasion.
Chairing the conference was NFB’s Director of Policy James Butcher who welcomed our Heritage Group Chair, Clare Watson to the stage. Clare welcomed guests and explained that our theme for the day was ‘Royal’, and we certainly had a line up fit for the King. Our first keynote of the day was NFB Member, Simpson (York) who were represented by Construction Director, Mark Cregan and Tim Davies, their stone masonry consultant. Both Mark and Tim gave us a real insight into the challenges involved in restoring Clifford’s Tower in York. This iconic, ancient monument has over a thousand years of history behind it and has been a royal mint, a medieval stronghold and a civil war garrison. It had fallen into disrepair and Simpson was awarded the contract to complete extensive restoration and repair of the stonework as well as providing a glulam timber canopy to allow panoramic views of York, a hanging steel walkway and floating staircases. As well as operating during the pandemic, the team encountered many challenges during the restoration. This included the remote location (situated on top of a 36ft motte), the fragility of the building and remains that were discovered during the groundworks. The team at Simpson overcame all obstacles and have won all manner of awards including the NFB’s Heritage Project of the Year 2023. Current statistics state that visitors now spend on average over an hour exploring the Tower, compared to the previous 15–20-minute duration – showing the incredible benefit that heritage construction projects can have to our cultural experience.
Next up was Lizzie Glithero-West, CEO of the Heritage Alliance. The Heritage Alliance advocates for all those involved in heritage and Lizzie discussed their Heritage Manifesto with NFB’s Head of Policy, Rico Wojtulewicz. The Heritage Alliance want the government, whoever is in power, to put heritage at the heart of their policy agenda. This includes actions such as embedding the historic environment in climate action and reforming the tax regime so that it is given equal status to new build. Lizzie also talked about harnessing cultural learning and skills through engagement, apprenticeship schemes and levy reform. The Alliance would also like to futureproof heritage funding at every level by protecting the 20% share of lottery funding and ringfencing investment in local authorities. Lizzie encouraged all those attending to join the Heritage Alliance and help support their work in protecting and supporting the sector.
Next on the podium was Clive Johnson, a well-respected member of the Construction Clients’ Leadership Group and a non-executive Director with the Duchy of Lancaster. Clive talked from the client’s perspective and stressed the importance of delivering good safety and health leadership in all aspects of construction. Clive’s mantra was ‘the level of health and safety you set will be the level of health and safety you get’ and that we should all take personal responsibility. He gave us some sobering statistics that emphasised the importance of this message.
After a delicious lunch and some networking, delegates heard from Michael Goodger from the Princes Foundation. Set up by His Majesty, the former Prince of Wales in the 1980s, the Foundation has grown into one of the leading organisations in the country that champions a sustainable approach to how we live our lives and build communities. Michael, Build Environment Education Manager took us through the programmes that the Foundation currently offer. Their Building Craft Programme not offers a level 3 NVQ in Heritage Skills, but also offers a fantastic opportunity for students from all trade areas such as carpentry, masonry, blacksmithing, roofing etc to push their skills to the next level and become master craftspeople. As well as some work in the classroom on general business management, participants on the course are given a 15-week industrial placement with a heritage organisation as well as creating a live build where they can put their skills into practice. The course is incredibly successful, and the legacy speaks for itself. 94% of those that take part in the programme have said that it has had a positive impact on their career and 83% are now working in the heritage sector. Should anyone be interested in taking part in the next programme, they should register their interest at education@princes-foundation.org
Our next speaker was Claire Wallbridge from the Natural Stone Industry Group who told us about the wonderful work that the organisation does to keep the art of stone masonry alive. The NSITG is a CITB funded national training group that exists to promote careers, training development and skills in the natural stone industry. They also work hard to ensure that high standards are developed and maintained and have developed their own stone apprenticeship. Claire told us about their Trailblazer apprenticeship for stone masons that is available and where they are hosted. A passionate ambassador for the industry, Claire would like to expand the programme to encourage more apprentices and keep our heritage skills alive. Claire also encouraged all CITB registered contractors involved in the natural stone industry to become members of NSITG to help to nurture, promote and celebrate the talent that is out there.
Our final keynote of the day was given by NFB’s Heritage Chair, Clare Watson. As well as being a very active member of NFB and Board member, Clare runs a very successful award-winning family business that specialises in painting and decorating for the heritage and ecclesiastical sector. Clare gave us a fascinating insight into the world of paint which can be traced back to 13th century. The modern UK paint industry is hugely important to construction, producing over 700 million litres of paint in 2019. However, for heritage buildings it is vitally important to get the right materials for the job. Paint is clearly not just paint- as we learnt about mineral paint, limewash and a host of other types as well understanding the intricacy involved in stencilling and overpainting. Clare stressed that although stencilling is sometimes considered easy to do, it can often lead to a tawdry imitation of the original work. She emphasised that it is crucial that any reinstatement must always be a faithful reproduction of the original which should include accurate colour and designs that are executed with knowledge and skill. Clare has worked on several prestigious projects and gave some stunning examples from Lancaster Cathedral, The Gilbert Scott Building in Glasgow and work for the Historic Churches Commission.
The conference concluded with an update on the NFB’s launch of the Heritage Approved Contractor Mark. This was launched in January 2023 and has been widely welcomed by both clients and suppliers. The Mark, exclusive to NFB members has been created to give reassurance to clients that their suppliers have the skill and expertise to work on heritage projects. Not only do those that have the HACM adhere to the NFB’s code of conduct, but they have also given references and case studies to prove that they can take on work of this nature. Clare Watson once again took to the stage alongside her fellow committee members, Paul Knox, Pearce Construction, Alan Leigh, Baxall Construction and Tom Austin, F A Vaillant & Son have all gained the Mark themselves to answer any questions on this initiative and how companies can get involved.
The day concluded with a thank you from NFB’s Chief Executive Richard Beresford to all our speakers and to the delegates for attending. The NFB would also like to thank the Southern Counties Builders Association (SCBA) for their generous support of the day. The next Heritage Conference will take place on Thursday 5th September 2024. To register interest in finding out more about this event visit https://www.builders.org.uk/events/heritage-and-traditional-build-conference/