Building conservation: accreditation

What's your secret?

28 June 2013

John Klahn reviews the new accreditation process and guidance

When seeking to protect our heritage assets, it would be useful if buildings, monuments or sites could talk. They could inform us why they were built, the methods used and the problems faced, point out their ailments, areas of pain or concern; tell us about the people they served and what future purpose they wish to fulfil.

Unfortunately, we must rely on history and apply this to current knowledge of the built environment and humanity’s influence on it. Technology such as search functions, online tools and electronic devices can assist, but the availability of dedicated professionals to serve the interests of the heritage sector is paramount.

Only by assessing and promoting all professional disciplines involved in the protection of our heritage assets can we protect the public

As a history graduate, I appreciate the importance of looking to the past to better serve the future. Likewise, as a champion of RICS, I share the objective of sustaining the built environment for future generations by looking forward and addressing the demands of a fast-changing global landscape. History moves forward too the buildings we label modern now will become historic, the knowledge we possess will be passed on to younger generations and the experiences we gain will reflect how we approach the built environment and so must RICS and its members.

Moving forward does not mean dramatic change or leaving the old behind, but continuing to be flexible and imaginative so as to achieve the right balance. It is this approach that building conservation professionals must employ and that RICS applies to building conservation accreditation.

Accreditation is open to all built environment professionals because only by assessing and promoting all professional disciplines involved in the protection of our heritage assets can we protect the public.

Validate your experience

Clients, contractors, stakeholders and the general public can have widely differing demands. In building conservation especially you must also consider the heritage asset as an influential stakeholder.

RICS Building Conservation Accreditation was conceived in 1992; the initial driver was to recognise RICS members who possessed the specialist knowledge and appreciation of the UK’s heritage assets. The public, built asset owners and fellow RICS members shared a desire to procure advice and services only from those with the experience to conserve buildings, monuments and sites of historic interest.

When tendering for business, it can be challenging to confidently persuade clients of your appreciation for and expertise in these matters. Your communications, marketing statements and previous references cannot always provide enough assurance for those who feel duty bound to protect our heritage assets or have taken on an asset about which they know little or nothing.

RICS Building Conservation Accreditation seeks to address this by assessing and promoting only those individuals who can demonstrate the special approach required when working on heritage assets. It is supported by funding bodies and owners, which prescribe or expect professionals to have building conservation accreditation to be considered for work.

Joy Russell, Head of Conservation Architecture, English Heritage, says:

English Heritage is committed to the principle of conservation accreditation as an independent assessment of a construction professional’s skills and competence in conservation, a means of making that information available to owners and managers of heritage assets, and an encouragement for professionals to gain knowledge and experience in building conservation.

All repair projects grant-aided by English Heritage must be led by an architect, chartered building surveyor or chartered architectural technologist who has conservation accreditation from a recognised body, such as the RICS Building Conservation Accreditation Register.

Consider your experience

The process for becoming accredited requires you to demonstrate your competence through your experience. The purpose of the case studies is to provide details of your experience to inform the assessors at interview. You should consider your experience in addition to your recent work:

  • when did you start working in building conservation?
  • how many building conservation projects have you worked on?
  • what projects best demonstrate your application of conservation philosophy?
    • conducting archival research
    • completing or assessing funding applications
    • completing or assessing planning applications
  • advising clients or stakeholders on your decisions
  • what courses or events have you attended?
  • have you contributed to standards setting or shared your own knowledge?
  • what books have you read?


To qualify for accreditation, you must:

  • be an RICS member or a full member of a professional body approved by RICS for chartered membership
  • have sufficient, relevant and responsible practical experience to be able to demonstrate the competencies
  • have current experience in building conservation

You should not include all this information in your applications but thinking about it will assist you in identifying the elements of your experience that best demonstrate your competence. Consider the application and interview as a professional exercise: the assessors are your client and the application represents your tender documents. Preparing the documentation succinctly can provide you with a working portfolio for future use. You may find that accreditation will replace a significant amount of the tender documents usually requested by your potential clients.

Accreditation process

Figure 1: The accreditation process

If when assessing your experience you do not feel ready to apply for accreditation or think you would benefit from additional advice, the RICS Building Conservation Forum can assist.

A mentoring scheme is being piloted to provide opportunities for non-accredited professionals to obtain support in their applications or gain experience of work to which they would not usually have access.

Protecting our heritage

Heritage assets rely on professionals to protect them; similarly the public rely on RICS for reassurance. Accreditation is not a one-off certification, but represents an ongoing commitment to best practice. Maintaining CPD relevant to building conservation and a five-year cycle of reaccreditation, in addition to an annual subscription, ensures that RICS can promote you as a specialist in building conservation and lobby stakeholders governments and the wider heritage sector.

The secret of our heritage assets is those professionals dedicated to practising building conservation to the highest standards. Is this secretly you?

Accreditation competencies

Professionals accredited in building conservation by RICS must have a knowledge and appreciation of all elements of the built environment to successfully fulfil their conservation remit; most importantly they must apply their knowledge with an appreciation of the conservation philosophy when advising clients.

Conservation philosophy

Applying recognised charters, standards, guidelines and regulations, understanding the importance of heritage assets and their environments and advising on the level of intervention.

Construction techniques

Identifying construction, structure and materials, reporting on the behaviour of the asset and advising on repair methods.

Diagnosis of defects

Identifying defects, reporting on their impact and advising on the required action.

Project management

Organising projects and works, liaising with occupiers, owners and other stakeholders, and resolving conflicts. Recognising specialist input and reporting to non-specialist readers. Creating records and advising on care and maintenance.


The mentoring scheme (Ref.1) was piloted in October 2012 with the following scope: evaluating experience; offering access to sites where possible; recommending an informal training programme (of practice and theory); advising on case study preparation. So far, 16 mentees have been placed with individual mentors (members already accredited by RICS in building conservation) and the relationships are progressing well.

Zoe Kemp, newly appointed Heritage at Risk Historic Buildings Surveyor, English Heritage (EH), Yorkshire is being mentored by Chris Mackintosh-Smith, Principal of GMS Architecture. She says: I have begun to pull together evidence from past projects and I will be visiting one of Chris’ current sites. We will be able to look over my portfolio to identify how best to progress my application. I am aiming to achieve accreditation within 12 months. I am sure that being part of the mentoring scheme greatly helped my application for my new job.

Chris Mackintosh-Smith says: I plan to combine the meeting with a visit to one of my EH/Heritage Lottery Fund grant-aided projects. The church of St Mary Magdalene is in the historic uphill area of Lincoln, close to the cathedral. It is a very sensitive site due to neighbour constraints, which will be a good springboard for discussion on conservation issues relating to historic building repair. I am looking forward to seeing Zoe’s projects as set out so far and working up a programme for the coming year.

If you are interested in finding a mentor, please email Anita Ratchford

John Klahn is Schemes and Accreditation Manager, RICS Products