Today is my last day at the Architectural Heritage Fund, after 11 years as Chief Executive. I am moving out of the heritage sector for a new challenge at a healthcare charity, which is exciting both personally and professionally.

I will miss the great projects we support and the people involved with them, and rather than eulogising at length here, suggest that you might like to watch this short film we have made about our work (thanks to expert film-maker Lisa Thomson) which is on YouTube here:

The AHF’s Annual Review for 2013-14 has also just been published and will be available on our website after 1 December. As ever it contains wonderful stories and pictures of the projects completed over the last year and those which are still under development, so do have a look and see if you can spot your favourite buildings.

I am sure that the AHF will go from strength to strength in the future under new leadership, not least because of the dedication and commitment of the rest of the staff, and I would like to finish my final blog by thanking my colleagues for their support, hard work and friendship since 2003, when we were all much younger!

Ian Lush

New Life in Scotland

The new AHF Projects and Development Officer North, Gordon Barr, introduces himself…

I’m delighted to be joining the AHF, although I’ve had a rather odd career path getting here – I  studied chemistry, accidentally became a computer programmerfor the pharmaceutical industry for seven years, and have been involved in commissioning public art works as well. So what on earth qualifies me when it comes to historic buildings?

An interest in the buildings around me was awakened  when I was a student, walking past an old boarded-up bingo hall that I’d never given a second glance to. By now it was in the process of being demolished and the end wall had been pulled down, letting me see inside for the first time. Suddenly an enormous, palatial auditorium and hundreds of empty seats were revealed – a complete surprise that really caught my attention.

As I researched it, I started to realize how many of the old buildings I was passing every day were in fact former cinemas or theatres – Glasgow had a lot of them! – and I started a website to record and catalogue them. Thirteen years later, the site at is still running, and now features over 1,100 different cinemas across 800 towns and cities across Scotland.

Developing the site  led to working with Historic Scotland’s listing team on their thematic survey of cinema buildings, and  a place on the Committee of the Cinema Theatre Association – the national amenity society for traditional cinema buildings.

Eventually it was time to take the plunge and change from volunteering to working in the Heritage Sector – and I was lucky  to secure a role at  Maryhill Burgh Halls Trust, a BPT that was working to bring  the former Victorian town hall, police and fire stations in Maryhill in Glasgow back to life as a vibrant community resource and business centre.

Maryhill Burgh Halls

Maryhill Burgh Halls

The unique selling point of the project was the chance to bring a series of unique stained glass windows out of storage after more than forty years, and get them back on display in the building. These windows, created in 1878 by  artist Stephen Adam, show  industrial scenes with people in their everyday working clothes – not dressed up or stylized. There are boatbuilders, engineers, soldiers, wheelwrights, railway workers and papermakers. They are a great piece of art, but also give  insights into the social, industrial, even fashion choices of the time! The Canal Boatman, as well as a fetching bunnet, even has a patch sewn into his trouserleg at the knee – look closely and you can see the stitches!

Gordon Barr and one of the Maryhill stained glass windows

Gordon Barr and one of the Maryhill stained glass windows

So after four years as the Heritage Development Manager, while I’m sad to have left the Maryhill project, I’m also really proud of all that has been achieved – as well as a fully rejuvenated and very busy building, we’ve had over 6,000 people involved in over 170 different heritage related activities since 2010 – plus over 1,600 downloads of our free Maryhill Heritage Trails App.

When looking into  projects the AHF has supported, I was particularly pleased to see  one of my favourite cinemas, the wonderful  Category A-listed Hippodrome in Bo’Ness, Scotland’s oldest purpose built cinema. This is a project that was only able to succeed thanks to the AHF’s support. Now, several years after re-opening, it’s the home of an annual and growing silent film festival, and has put the heart back in the centre of the Bo’Ness community – a great example of the huge social and economic impact that regenerating our architectural heritage back to life can offer.

Bo'ness Hippodrome

Bo’ness Hippodrome

I’m now looking forward to seeing the full range of  projects that the AHF supports across Scotland, the north of England, and further afield, and hopefully supporting a range of new projects so that  they can benefit their communities once again.

Gordon Barr

“What’s in a name?”

AHF Chief Executive Ian Lush examines some meanings and interpretations…

So wrote Shakespeare in ‘Romeo and Juliet’, and he continued “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Sometimes, however, a particular word can be so imbued with meanings and resonance that it becomes unhelpful – as indeed Juliet found with Romeo’s surname.

I would suggest that one such word is ‘heritage’. Last week I was in Cardiff at an event organised by the Heritage Lottery Fund, one of several ‘conversations’ marking their 20th anniversary and intended to bring together people from different sectors to examine some of the key issues we are facing in 2014. Many of the participants in the fascinating Cardiff conversation were not from heritage organisations, and several questioned whether the word itself was a potential barrier when we are trying to engage new people from different backgrounds. (The event took place at the rather splendid Temple of Peace and Health, pictured below).TOP-2b

I think there is some truth in this, and that there are other names which are unhelpful too. Take ‘charity’ for example. The Architectural Heritage Fund is itself a charity, and so are most (though not all) of our clients. But if you hear that word ‘charity’ what is your first reaction? Perhaps the image of an organisation dispensing aid to the third world comes to mind, or you think about street fundraisers (impolitely known as ‘chuggers’ – charity muggers), or even, for those of us of a certain age, a life-size metal collection box of a boy or a girl with a stick into which you were expected to put your spare change when you visited the local shops. All very ‘worthy’, but not perhaps how a dynamic community regeneration organisation wants to be pictured when it is acting as a local developer and enabler in a highly competitive market.

Similarly ‘heritage’. Images: stately homes with the interesting bits roped off? Museums with stuffed animals in glass cases? Stonehenge? Chatsworth? Buckingham Palace? Too often heritage is automatically thought to refer first and foremost to visitor attractions and tourism, rather than something intrinsic to our everyday lives, and most importantly a vital part of the economic and social capital of the UK in 2014.

So do I have viable alternatives to these difficult words? And why is my own organisation still called The Architectural Heritage Fund when we mainly focus on the sustainable re-use of buildings at risk, rather than their heritage or architecture? Taking the second question first, re-naming an organisation, especially one which is nearly 40 years old, is costly and not without risk. We are in the process of reviewing our communications at present, and no doubt the name question will be considered, but I am not yet convinced that a change of name is advisable.

As for what we might use instead of ‘heritage’, I do not have any instant solutions. ‘History’ is too specific and to most people means an academic subject studied at school. In Welsh we have ‘Treftadaeth’ which also has associations with ‘tradition’ and ‘birthright’ – interesting, but not useful as alternatives. The French refer to heritage as ‘patrimoine’ which I rather like, but its implied direct translation of ‘patrimony’ is unhelpful. Of course heritage is part of the wider ‘cultural’ sector, but whilst ‘culture’ itself can be a positive term, heritage, I would suggest, is also part of regeneration and community.

So where does all this leave us? Without an obvious alternative to either ‘heritage’ or, for that matter, ‘charity’, but perhaps with a growing recognition the words themselves are important and can present barriers to participation and understanding.

Social value and impact

Ian Lush, Chief Executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund, ponders questions of social value and impact.

One of the most debated issues in the heritage sector at the moment is the social value and impact of the historic environment. What is this and why is it important?

Answering the first question is not straightforward – there are numerous definitions of social value ranging from the impact of heritage on communities through how people attach value to places in their area.  And why does it matter?  For the Architectural Heritage Fund I would say there are two main reasons: firstly, to enable us to demonstrate the wider impact of the projects we support, and leading on from that, to look at new funding opportunities both for the AHF itself and for our clients.

There has been considerable work undertaken around measuring the economic impact of the historic environment and its regeneration, looking at aspects such as tourism and its associated impacts, and through the creation of jobs and the stimulation of local economic revival. However, little similar work has been done on social impacts such as health, crime reduction, community cohesion and civic pride. Where there is some evidence it tends to be highly anecdotal and not based on longitudinal research.

The AHF and partner organisations commissioned a study from Ela Palmer in 2008 which found little comprehensive research in this area, and from what we can see not much has changed six years on. The Heritage Lottery Fund is working with consultants to address this, and the AHF itself is undertaking further work, but we would be interested in any other research readers are aware of which highlights the impact of the regeneration of the historic environment on communities.

What is clear is that when a community does become fully involved in a project the impacts are significant.  Two recent examples of successful community share issues have demonstrated this: just last week Hastings Pier announced that it had beaten its target of £500,000 raised through the sale of community shares

Hastings Pier

Hastings Pier

and nearly 400 people have bought shares in the Ivy House community-owned pub in Nunhead, South London.

Ivy House pub

Ivy House pub

Power to the people indeed – and clearly showing social impact in the most direct way. Social value is not just about heritage significance, and some thought-provoking articles in the March 2014 issue of the IHBC’s ‘Context’ magazine demonstrated this very effectively. This is an important topic, and one I will return to over the coming months.


The ‘Ledbury Places’ Project – What is it and Why Does it Matter?

Chris Ammonds of Zebra Media, marketing and PR consultant for the Ledbury Places project, explains why this multiple asset transfer scheme is a national pilot.

The beautiful Herefordshire market town of Ledbury is renowned for its nationally acclaimed Poetry Festival, whilst its tourism trade – boosted by the glorious walks that can be enjoyed in the surrounding countryside – is also very important to the local economy. For these reasons, and many others, an ongoing project in the town named Ledbury Places is vitally important.

Six of Ledbury’s major heritage buildings, all highly significant and some Grade 1 Listed, are currently part of a national pilot project, funded by the Social Investment Business, looking at the future use and management of all six buildings rather than examining them individually.  The scope of this work and the fact that it is looking at multiple assets in a variety of current ownerships explains why it is seen as a national exemplar by the Department for Communities and Local Government and organisations such as Locality.

The buildings include two of the most prominent historic buildings in the town – the Market House and the Barrett Browning Institute with its well-known clocktower – as well as smaller but no less important ones such as Nos 1 – 3 Church Lane, currently occupied by the Town Council.

The Barrett Browning Institute, Ledbury

The Barrett Browning Institute, Ledbury

For the last eight months, the Ledbury Places team – which includes representatives from Ledbury Town Council, Ledbury & District Civic Society, Ledbury Area Development Trust and Herefordshire Council among others, supported by both the UK Association of Preservation Trusts and the Architectural Heritage Fund – has been carrying out a Feasibility Study to look not only at preserving the buildings’ long-term future, but also finding the best possible ways for them to be put to fuller use for the whole community.

The Market House, Ledbury

The Market House, Ledbury

Many of the buildings are currently badly underused and the Ledbury Places project appreciates that suggesting new uses for some of these buildings is a contentious issue. Nonetheless, the project team wants local people to see Ledbury Places as a unique opportunity to ensure a viable future for some of their town’s prime assets and also safeguard them for generations to come.

Town Council Offices, Church Lane, Ledbury

Town Council Offices, Church Lane, Ledbury

In recent weeks, four options have been released into the public domain and feedback has been sought from the local community. A significant number of people have offered suggestions and comments and importantly Ledbury Town Council itself has given a statement of intent in terms of a preferred option.

A final proposal is now being put together so that grant applications can be submitted over the spring and early summer to secure funding to move the project to the next stage. There will be further opportunities for the local community to have their say on Ledbury Places but for now it is all about how funding can be secured to take the project forward.

As Ledbury & District Civic Society Chairman Alex Clive said, this may be the town’s one shot at securing the long-term future of six of the beautiful buildings that make Ledbury so special to so many people. It is therefore vital that the team – on behalf of the local community – get it right.

For more information and to be kept in touch with the project, see

New publications

There are two new publications I want to draw your attention to this month. First is the Architectural Heritage Fund’s Annual Review for 2012-13, available in PDF form through our (spanking new) website here:

This contains full details of projects funded by the AHF which have been completed in the last year, plus information on those which are under development throughout the UK, and articles from myself and our Chairman, John Townsend. There are also lots of great before and after pictures, such as of Hastings Pier:

Hastings Pier

Hastings Pier

Llanelly House:

Llanelly House

Llanelly House

and the Britons Arms in Norwich:

Britons Arms, Norwich

Britons Arms, Norwich

Meanwhile, also just out is the annual Building Conservation Directory, full of useful advice and information as always. This year I was pleased to be asked to contribute an article about Buildings At Risk, a subject clearly close to my heart and to our raison d’etre as an organisation.  The full article is more than 2,000 words so too long to be quoted in full, but will be available on the Building Conservation website hopefully next week – in the meantime you can order the Directory here:

My aim in this was to look at the current state of play of at risk historic buildings in the UK, and also to outline what is being done about them by the various statutory and third sector agencies.  I look at some of the causes of buildings being at risk, and at some successes and failures, in particular taking the 10th anniversary of the first series of the BBC’s Restoration programmes to look at what has happened to some of the buildings featured.  That in itself was an interesting exercise, a microcosm of our sector:

Ten years on, it is quite encouraging to look back at those buildings which featured in the first series of the BBC’s Restoration in the late summer of 2003. Of the 30 buildings included in the series, many have been fully or partially restored, having undoubtedly benefited from the high profile such coverage brings. Moulton Windmill in Lincolnshire is one such, now with its sails refitted and opening to the public on a regular basis. Lissan House in Northern Ireland, the runner-up to Manchester’s Victoria Baths, is also thriving, repaired and in use for a wide variety of events and activities. Considerable progress has also been made by the likes of Cromford Mills in Derbyshire, Llanelly House in Wales and Arnos Vale Cemetery in Bristol.

Others, however, tell a less palatable story, and one which perhaps sums up the challenges facing buildings at risk in the UK in the 21st century. Glen O’Dee Hospital in Scotland, despite the efforts of a consortium of third sector bodies, was sold by the NHS to a developer and it lies abandoned and derelict, with some of the historic structure already demolished. At the other end of the British Isles, the Poltimore House Trust in Exeter has had to overcome the unexpected discovery of asbestos, further deterioration of the main house and a number of funding setbacks and yet, with the support of the AHF and others, the trust continues its valiant efforts to save this extraordinary building.

Watch this space for more updates on some of these projects over the next few months, and for more on buildings at risk as well – and happy reading!

Ian Lush, Chief Executive, The Architectural Heritage Fund

We’re back! (almost…)

Well, one thing I should have remembered when writing the previous post on this site was never to give a date for the launch of something unless you are 100% certain about it. And yet there I was, blithely stating that we would be back in October with the re-launched AHF website as the main feature.

Through no-one’s fault, the testing of the new site took longer than we hoped, and some glitches in the online application forms had to be ironed out, but we’re there, it’s up and we’re all very pleased with the outcome. Big thanks to Viki Jebens and her team at Jebens Design ( for their excellent work, and to Di and Paul in the AHF office for all their input at our end. The site is at the old address, and we hope you enjoy it.

So why are we back, but only ‘almost’? The website is fully operational, we’ve moved office (15 Whitehall, SW1A 2DD if you want to update your address books; telephone and emails unchanged) and the grant-giving is fully operational, but the challenges facing our loan fund remain. Unprecedented demand combined with delays in repayments of some of our outstanding loans mean that for now we are only able to offer new loans in Scotland. We are working hard with our funders, our clients and new partners to address this and hope that we will resume offering loans in the rest of the UK during 2014 – watch this blog and the website for updates.

Now that the website is up and running there will be regular news items there, so we will be using this blog for more anecdotal and discursive comments, and I promise (he says, hoping not to eat his words) that the posts will return to the fortnightly frequency we managed for the first year of New LIfe for Old Buildings. It’s good to be back…

Ian Lush, Chief Executive, the Architectural Heritage Fund