Listed buildings – 6 ways to overcome refurbishment challenges

Working within a listed building will always come with its challenges, but the end result is extremely rewarding, but what are the key challenges when refurbishing a listed building and how do we overcome them?

  • Structural alterations can be particularly difficult and may involve many parties who may have a vested interest. For example, forming openings through original stone/ masonry walls in a crypt. Several surveys may be required before a temporary works design can be worked up with a full method statement. This will then need signing off before any works can be begin.
  • If proposing alternative materials it is imperative they are in keeping with the original building. They will not ONLY require planning approval but also listed building consent. For example, cementitious plasters should not be used in lieu of lime plasters.
  • Services are usually a real problem as you are not allowed to form builder’s work holes on an ad hoc basis. These have to be carefully considered and can result in significant changes to the design when they don’t fit.
  • Finding the right skills and materials when replacing like for like, e.g. windows/ metalwork/ roofing/ leadwork/ stonework. This is where a knowledgeable and varied supply chain becomes vital.
  • Discovery items. This can lead to real issues of delay. For example, working in churches and discovering buried remains will mean work stopping immediately and the relevant parties being notified. The site will then be shut while it is established where the remains came from. It will then be decided if they can be exhumed and reburied or not etc. Usually this will be covered in the initial design phase with guidance but can still be disruptive.
  • Having the right people to manage the process with an understanding of what it is they are doing. It is very easy to destroy something through ignorance and extremely difficult to put back.

Finally, and one of the most important elements of a successful listed building refurbishment is always making sure that all proposals have been approved by ALL relevant parties.