Building restoration and building conservation may sound similar, but they have distinct differences. Restoration involves bringing a building back to its original state, with new materials that match the original ones. The aim is to make the building look as if it had been built years ago, providing it with a new lease of life while respecting the past.

Conservation, on the other hand, takes a different approach. The aim here is to keep the original fabric of a building as intact as possible, only making repairs that are reversible and identifiable. 

The repairs should not affect the building’s overall structure and they should be done in such a way that they do not lower its historical significance. Knowing the difference between these two concepts is essential, particularly for architects, engineers and historians.

If you have an historic building in your care, a major responsibility you have will be to preserve it, especially if it has listed status or is in a conservation area. It also means you are ensuring that a treasured building is maintained for future generations to enjoy.

This means that every so often you will need to have work carried out not just to maintain the building in its current state, but to fix damage and decay. 

Doing so may seem costly, but there is a good reason for this; when it comes to heritage building conservation work, you are not simply paying for the bricks-and-mortar or the skills of a builder who might otherwise be fixing up a modern semi or laying the foundations for a new build home. 

To be a building conservator and craftsperson requires extra skills over and above that, to understand historic buildings, how they were constructed and the materials involved. To be qualified for such a role is the equivalent of someone needing a degree, rather than just A levels

This is no lazy analogy; there are specific qualifications that conservation craftsmen have to train for to do the job. Many if not most of the craftsmen you might meet have gained qualifications accredited by the Institute for Historic Building Conservation (IHBC). 

Many of these are university courses, provided by the likes of Cambridge, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Birmingham City, Derby, Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt, Plymouth, Oxford Brookes, Central Lancashire, Reading, Anglia Ruskin, Bath, Sheffield, Kingston, Cardiff, Strathclyde, Kent, York, Leicester, Stirling and University College London.

Add to this other institutions offering IHBC courses and the total reaches 27, showing just how significant this level of qualification is, with many of these courses at postgraduate level.

It is also possible to use the IHBC to find conservators with the necessary skills and resources to carry out work on your property, in the knowledge that the body’s accreditation will back them up. 

Other courses are recognised by bodies like Historic England and Historic Environment Scotland, such as the professional development diploma in historic building conservation and repair, the professional development award for the repair of traditional masonry structures and a level 3 diploma in heritage skills. 

These courses are not just for building conservators either; those attending include surveyors, planners, construction managers and architects.

The fact that such a wide array of professionals involved in building construction and maintenance should attend such courses ought to be a clear enough indication that this is not just about basic skills. 

That is not to disparage those who build the homes, offices and other structures you may see emerging in our towns and cities, but there is an extra level of understanding needed for building conservation.

A craftsperson is a unique breed of builder, possessing a set of skills that is unparalleled in the modern world. To truly appreciate the work of these craftspeople, one must understand the intricacies of working with both new and old building supplies. 

Unlike modern builders, craftsmen and women must understand how these materials will react with the building, while the techniques for applying them correctly have been nearly forgotten. 

In a world where modern techniques and materials are the norm, the craftsmanship of these people is truly remarkable. Their knowledge and expertise have been passed down through generations, and they bring a sense of history and tradition to every project they take on. 

It is their dedication to their craft that allows them to keep traditions alive and preserve our heritage for future generations.