Using’s better than losing!

To move forward in a positive way, we need to keep an eye on where we are coming from. Learning from the past is a sentiment we can all agree on and the phrase ‘using is better than losing’ can be applied to almost everything. Whether it is in regards to the throw-away culture of the last few decades that is causing problems in the environment, the skills that organisations such as the Heritage Crafts Association are working to protect or the buildings that define our towns and villages.

© Lauren Schofield - Church

Keeping heritage skills alive

There are many craft skills and techniques that are in danger of dying out. Those who could teach them are retiring and no one is able to take on these roles. Thatching, the craft of building a roof with straw or reed, which is such an integral part of many historic houses, is just one of the hundreds of crafts which used to employ many. It is a difficult skill and the lack of training available is causing problems. Thatched roofs regularly have to be maintained. If it becomes too heavy, it puts a huge amount of pressure on the timbers, which can eventually destroy the house. The only way to deal with issues affecting the maintenance of historic fearures, is to keep using these special skills and developing the craft. I highly recommend the Heritage Crafts Association Blog

Breathing new life into old places

When it comes to old buildings they are often the parts of towns and villages that people will come from miles away to visit and enjoy. Making the most of our heritage assets is really the key to developing our local areas. To illustrate my point, I am taking Oxford Castle which is the largest project to date undertaken by Oxford Preservation Trust. It was a £6 million scheme as part of the wider commercial £40 million Oxford Castle regeneration, completed in a partnership with the public sector.

Until 1996, the 5-acre site housed an intimidating 19th-century prison. It now boasts a successful tourist attraction in Oxford Castle Unlocked, a Malmaison hotel, popular restaurants, cafes, an art gallery and 40 apartments. We worked on a conservation plan for the site with Oxfordshire County Council (OCC) at a time when conservation plans had only just started being used. The plan became a bible for the re-development of the site and the history of the site was constantly kept in mind as a way to make it exciting and enticing. Malmaison embraced the prison history; staying at Malmaison Oxford is ‘Doing time at the Mal’ and the rooms are made up of prison cells, luxurious but atmospheric.

The redevelopment of the Castle has promoted the regeneration of the surrounding area, now known as Oxford's West End and supported by South East Development Agency (SEEDA), Oxford City Council, OCC and the University and Colleges. In 2010, OCC have sold their 1960s office site alongside the Mound to a charitable trust, Science Oxford, and exciting plans for a new Science and Education Centre linking into the main Castle site are coming forward.

Using these sites rather than losing them is a way to keep character, to create something unusual and successful, whilst telling people about their local history. The castle site has much outdoor space which the Oxford Preservation Trust manages and is used for local events.

The Castle will also be at the heart of our Oxford Doors Open Doors over Heritage Open Days. Come and celebrate with us at our Gaol House Rocks Day and Party!

Heritage Open Days showcases many more restoration projects, big and small, completed or on the go, across the country. It's a chance to see the work of hundreds of local civic societies, preservation trusts and friends groups caring for their historic environment. And many events will include demonstrations of traditional skills and crafts. You may even have a go yourself.

Also worth noting: English Heritage recently launched a new annual award scheme to celebrate the efforts of local people in saving their heritage. Check out The English Heritage Angel Awards