Heritage & Conservation: Q&A with Jess
Jess Barrow, HPA’s Planning & Heritage Consultant takes part in the ongoing Q&A series and shares with us her understanding and expertise in her specialised field. Alongside her role at HPA, Jess is also Heritage Consultant at HPA’s sister company, Woohoo.
What is a typical day in the life of a Heritage Consultant like?
There’s usually some historic research on a building/area, discussions with the Architectural team about design implications of repairs and interventions along with a site visit looking at the fabric and development of a building.
How did you find your way into the industry?
I started my career as a geotechnical surveyor, working for a Shrewsbury based survey company who I had completed my placement year with during my undergraduate studies (MSc Rural Enterprise and Land Management, Harper Adams University). My role was to complete high accuracy surveys of land, rivers, railways and buildings to assist designers and engineers.
I began working on historic properties, completing monitoring surveys to understand defects and movements of buildings and creating accurate records of properties prior to works beginning. I became interested in understanding how to manage these assets and specify their repair which led me to returning to full time education to complete a Masters in Conservation of Historic Buildings at the University of Bath. This course opened my eyes to the international world of conservation and I attended lectures from leading specialists and was given amazing opportunities to visit a wide array of sites to learn from craftspeople and professionals.
My love for the conservation of the historic environment grew during my studies and on the completion of my Masters I gained my first conservation job with Aberdeenshire Council as a Conservation Officer and Project Officer. Since then I have worked in various local government planning teams and have undertaken roles in project management in the private sector.
With extensive specialist knowledge in Heritage planning, what have been some of your most challenging projects so far?
Having worked in both the private and public sector, I have been involved with an array of projects from the restoration of monuments and mausoleums through to supporting National Heritage Lottery Fund applications for multi-million-pound projects.
The interesting thing about working with historic buildings is that no two problems or solutions are the same! This means that we are unable to write standard specifications for repairs and finishes for historic buildings, instead needing to understand the site and the local area in detail to make sure our interventions are complementary to the buildings fabric and design. This was most relevant when working on a derelict and declining mill complex in Greater Manchester where I helped specify how redevelopment could be achieved without unacceptable losses of buildings and historic fabric. To do this I worked closely with the Developer, Engineers, Specialist Consultants, Architects, M&E Specialists and Quantity Surveyors.
How does the growing need for sustainability impact your work?
Sustainability is at the core of conservation. Existing buildings need to adapt to meet modern living standards to make sure that people want to live, work and visit these buildings. To enable this, we have to find ways to carefully adapt our historic buildings.
We do this by carefully thinking about their original design and construction to make sure interventions are fit for purpose and can be implemented to the benefit of the building and its users, without creating new problems!
As the world has become more aware of our responsibility to help reduce carbon consumption, I am also now finding that clients, professionals and craftspeople have become more open to understanding technological advances in materials and systems. Material advances also now include more sustainable options, with more recycled and natural products available than ever before. This has given me a great insight into opportunities to improve building performance without harming their character. Thankfully, we have also become more conscious of embodied carbon and this means that clients are more open to discuss the retention and repurposing of existing buildings, rather than seeking new replacements.
What advice would you give someone thinking about a career in the heritage sector?
Go for it! The conservation field is full of wonderful professionals and craftspeople who want to help others understand, learn and grow – you will be supported on your journey.
For information on Woohoo specialists in Heritage & Sustainability: https://woohoo.ltd/