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Decay to Renewal: The importance of restoring the UK’s historic buildings

As the sun rises over the UK’s historic buildings, they stand tall and proud as a testament to our rich cultural heritage.

From majestic medieval castles to Jacobethan delights like the world-famous Highclere Castle (for the Downton Abbey fans among us), historic buildings offer a link to the past: a glimpse into the lives of those who came before us. However, the ravages of time, weathering, pollution and neglect often take their toll, risking decay and degradation to some of our most precious heritage sites.

Since the formation of See Brilliance over three decades ago, we’ve found ourselves fortunate enough to work on dozens of wonderful historic building restoration projects up and down the country.

In the highly specialised area of historic structure restoration and preservation, strict rules and guidance help to protect historic sites from improper or damaging restoration techniques.

Historic England, the UK’s official public body for the preservation of historic buildings and heritage sites, stipulates that restoration or cleaning of masonry should only be carried out by a specialist contractor who understands the specific methods and systems needed to clean certain types of masonry without causing damage or visual disfigurement.

When working on historic sites like stone buildings, monuments and structures such as bridges, our operatives use a variety of specialist techniques and systems including DOFF Steam Cleaning and TORC Cleaning to remove surface contaminants and pollutants. These systems and techniques, which are also recommended by English Heritage and the National Trust, are essential in preserving the lifespan of every structure we work hard to restore.

However, longevity and visual appeal are just the tip of the iceberg; years of research has found that the preservation of historic sites provides economic, social, cultural and environmental benefits too.

Let’s dive in.

Supporting local economies

As well as preserving the very essence of our built environment, historic building preservation boosts the economy and provides literally hundreds of thousands of jobs, contributing directly to the UK’s travel and tourism sector in a significant way.

According to recent research by Historic England, tourism at historic and heritage sites adds a staggering £36 billion to the UK economy annually, with an estimated 40 million visitors drawn to our country’s historic buildings from all over the world each year.

As a result of their popularity with tourists, heritage destinations also provide an enormous boost for local businesses operating in the towns and cities of popular tourist hotspots. Locations like Bath, Wells, York and Lincoln are shining examples of how English Heritage supports communities at a local level.

The sector employs more than 500,000 people across the UK, offering an exciting and diverse range of employment opportunities for people of all ages.

Boosting cultural knowledge and wellbeing

There is solid and growing evidence that heritage sites contribute significant cultural value to both tourism and local communities.

A three-year study by the National Lottery Heritage Fund discovered that visitors and volunteers at heritage sites saw improvements in their personal development, confidence, attitudes and learning. In fact, one in three people involved in English Heritage reported increased confidence in their abilities.

Another study by Nottingham Trent University analysed the relationship between visits to heritage sites and individual wellbeing, finding that visiting historical sites had a statistically significant impact on wellbeing.

From a cultural point of view, the UK ranks fifth out of 50 countries in terms of being rich in historic architectural heritage, and seventh for cultural heritage in the Nation Brand Index. In a recent Government whitepaper, ‘culture and historic attractions’ ranked as the number-one factor that makes the UK an attractive place to visit.

According to the British Council, when people engage with, learn from, value and promote their cultural heritage, it can contribute to social development. Heritage in this way can be a way to embed growth in the fabric of society and to celebrate the past in today’s evolving world.

Driving the sustainability agenda

With sustainability high on the global agenda, the UK sets a precedent for building preservation. In fact, Great Britain is home to some of the world’s oldest buildings and structures including the great Knap of Howar in Scotland (3,700 BC) and Stonehenge in Wiltshire (3,000 BC).

Of course, there isn’t much of an argument for rebuilding over restoration where historic and heritage sites are concerned. After all, most heritage sites are protected from destruction by law, meaning that any listed building should remain in existence as long as it can be properly maintained.

The impact of such stringent preservation measures is spilling into other areas with seemingly positive outcomes. In the commercial sector for example, construction companies are increasingly assessed on their green credentials across both their operations and the materials they use. Soon, it may even become a legal requirement to restore or refurbish existing building materials rather than replace them.

The UK Government’s Carbon Emissions (Buildings) Bill aims to set limits on the amount of carbon emissions a commercial building can produce over its lifetime. This means that building owners could have no choice but to opt for restoration rather than replacement where there is a viable case for it. This proposed regulation also covers the sustainability of materials used in construction such as window frames, facades and cladding.

Sustainability aside, there are major cost savings to be had from restoration and refurbishment. Our own data shows that, on average, restorative cleaning – the process we use to restore building facades, stone, glass and other building materials – is around 1/20 of the cost of replacement and one third of the cost of respraying.

Restoring Great Britain’s historic buildings for three decades

See Brilliance has over 30 years’ experience in providing specialist restoration and cleaning services at historic and heritage sites across the UK.

Using specialist systems and certified skill for cleaning old masonry and stone, our experts can restoratively clean almost any surface back to its original glory, enhancing the image of a historic site and preserving the masonry for years to come.

Learn more about our restoration methods, including DOFF Steam Cleaning, TORC Cleaning, commercial façade and cladding restoration and restorative cleaning. Get in touch with our restoration specialists to discuss your historic restoration project.

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