TIP 3: NEVER ASSUME CONTRACTORS UNDERSTAND HOW TO WORK WITH TRADITIONAL BUILDINGS
It never ceases to amaze me how few Contractors really understand how traditional buildings work, but if you read the UK shortage reports commissioned by the Government and published by the National Heritage Training Group, you can begin to understand why this is such a problem. In essence, these show that we have an ageing workforce, with a consequent loss of experience, and that despite traditional buildings accounting for almost a quarter of the UK’s building stock, few Contractors have any knowledge of the way to approach their repair or maintenance.
I first started to realise the extent of the problem as a former Conservation Officer, where I would deal with many Contractors ‘experienced in dealing with historic buildings’ on a daily basis. Many of these had been working in the same way for over 40 years, but it’s hard to tell many of them that they’ve been causing irreversible damage for all this time. Again, the issue comes down to education and understanding, and the fact that old buildings work in the opposite way to modern ones – yet training for this doesn’t feature in modern construction curriculums.
The situation is often compounded by the ways that Contractors can be sourced today, as this is not always be in line with traditional buildings. There are many websites available where homeowners can rate the tradespeople they use, and recommend them to others. These, however, need to be treated with a real note of caution, as problems will not be immediately apparent. In fact the approach taken may be have been completely inappropriate, necessitating expensive remedial works down the line.
For new build work this can be a very effective way of finding suitable Contractors, but may be less so for those involved with traditional buildings for the reasons set out above.