Bringing heritage to life

Byline: Steve McGregor, Group MD, DMA Group (Featured image).

Setting the scene

Historic England estimates that there are as many as 500,000 listed buildings in England. And with one single entry on the National Heritage List for England often covering a number of individual units, such as a row of terraced houses, this number is likely to be significantly higher.

Many of these attractions provide a draw for tourists and help reawaken UK towns, cities, and rural areas. Therefore, the impact heritage buildings have on national and local economies cannot be underestimated. Regenerating them to create focal points of character can confer economic and social value beyond their own boundary and this should be paramount for developers and local authorities.

Regeneration & maintenance

People value heritage. It matters to communities and forms part of their identity, whether large or small, urban or rural. Iconic historic buildings play a critical role as a focus-point for regeneration in our towns and cities. Even the smallest heritage building can enrich the fabric of an area and the community experience.

However, these buildings can become under threat if their features and systems are not protected from external conditions. Neglected, and they will quickly fall victim to decay and damage.

The survival of any building is underpinned by regular maintenance, with recognition of this made as early as the mid-nineteenth century by John Ruskin and William Morris. William Morris, founder of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.

For centuries, the survival of any building has been underpinned by an appropriate level of maintenance. This was recognised as early as the mid-19th century by John Ruskin and William Morris, founders of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. Fast forward two centuries later, and the maintenance landscape is unrecognisable thanks primarily to technology. And this is good news for owners and occupiers of heritage buildings.

Technology is helping property management firms automate systems and processes which improves experiences for property managers, owners, and occupiers. Our own technology enables real-time visibility and reporting, offering complete transparency anytime, anywhere and on any device, while guaranteeing statutory compliance and access to a 24/7 emergency call out and breakdown service. Our heritage property clients recognise the importance of moving from a reactive to a proactive model. Instead of a schedule determining when to assess a property’s performance, now on-the-pulse data offers the insight to deliver predictive maintenance. This means that our engineers can intervene before a problem arises and shut-down periods can even be managed to avoid disruption.

It is clear that retaining historic fabric leads to the retention of cultural significance, with the most appropriate method to achieve this being to undertake maintenance on a minimal intervention basis. The primary aim of minimal intervention is to restrain decay without damaging the building character. Minimal intervention aims to avoid unsympathetic alteration of important features or prevention of unnecessary disruption or destruction of the fabric that gives the significance to the buildings

From our point of view, we take a unified approach to servicing and supporting a building throughout its entire lifecycle regardless of its age. Those who operate heritage buildings have a lot on the line. They have the traditional concerns such as health and safety, plus the general operational aspects, but there’s also the reputational damage should something go awry.

A case in point is the Notre Dame devastation and the loss of a beloved architectural landmark. Archival documents, discovered in a Paris library in the aftermath, detailed the lengths at which the cathedral staff and fire protection experts had taken over six years to put the alarm in place, but it was simply too old and too slow. Not only that, but Notre-Dame’s attic didn’t contain any sprinklers or firewalls. So, when it was called upon to do the one thing that mattered – warn of fire – it instead produced a nearly indecipherable message.

 

Case study: Institute of Civil Engineers

One Great George Street. Home of the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE). Based in the centre of Westminster, this Grade II listed building was constructed in the early 1900s and features 21 function rooms including the reputed Great Hall which can host events for up to 400 people. Now operating as an independent venue featuring a hotel, restaurants and conference rooms, this historic building is run by a group which very much has sustainability and accessibility in mind.

We delivered a planned preventative, breakdown and emergency maintenance service and introduced a dedicated mobile engineering team. This team would carry out intrinsic maintenance on One Great Street’s mechanical and electrical (M&E) equipment and systems including condensers, ventilation systems and boilers. All of this was underpinned with 24/7/365 emergency call-out response.

When we carry out works to any building, we make it our sole prerogative to ensure the day to day operations are not impacted. However, when it comes to heritage buildings with stature such as One Great George Street, due care and consideration must be taken throughout the entire lifecycle.

Conclusion

It’s important to take pride in our heritage. Historic architecture not only impacts skylines and landscapes but, more importantly, iconic buildings tell us a story and help shape identity. And we need that particularly within our smaller towns and rural areas.

There is also practicality to be had when it comes to restoring our heritage buildings. History tells us that there are economic advantages that certain types of businesses have when they are located in older buildings. Such sought-after locations offer an element of prestige and can boost corporate image. Employees occupying these buildings are more likely to agree that they’re proud to work for their organisations, and customers are no doubt equally as delighted to visit.

It’s clear that retaining historic fabric leads to the retention of cultural significance, with the most appropriate method to achieve this being to undertake maintenance on a minimal intervention basis, the aim of which is to restrain decay without damaging building character. This also avoids unsympathetic alteration of important features or prevention of unnecessary disruption of the fabric that gives significance to these monumental buildings.

 

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