How can law, English and building conservation lead to a heritage career?

I was able to secure a paid position with Knowsley Borough Council as their 2015/2016 intern for the local Townscape Heritage Initiative in Prescot. This year-long placement will allow me to get into the field I feel I was always meant to be in (Heritage), but it has been a long time coming. As part of the internship I have been granted a place on the Building Conservation and Adaptation MSc at the University of Central Lancashire.

My original degree was in English but I feel this qualification has been of limited use when it comes to career choices. I am currently in talks to publish my 14th book on the subject of local history and I also write a weekly Nostalgia column for a local newspaper. However, this does not provide any sort of living. I have recently completed a Diploma in Law and will endeavor to boost this into a full LLB in the future through extra credits. Again, the legal route is proving problematic due to mediocre A Level results in my youth, so the idea of becoming a solicitor is not as straight forward as I had originally envisioned.

At 27 I am still struggling to find my feet career-wise, but I hope the Masters course with UCLAN will finally be a turning point. I see myself working in Heritage and I know I would enjoy it. However, it seems my fellow students have more practical backgrounds, such as Town Planning or Surveying. Can you advise on any steps I could take with my English and Law background, combined with my upcoming Building Conservation and Adaptation qualification, to enable me to finally begin a career in the heritage sector? Your advice would be greatly appreciated!

— Dan Longman


Expert answers

Patrick Whife 's reply:

Hi Dan,

Thanks for your question. The steps you’ve taken in your career so far sound very familiar; lots of people certainly make side steps as they start to develop their careers.

You are clearly committed and interested in heritage and you also have experience of law – do you envisage combining both of these interests? That is certainly possible! Local authorities, planning teams and organisations such as Historic England certainly have demand for people with those skills.

What you can’t do is compare yourself to other people, you have all been accepted onto the same programme. UCLAN are clearly comfortable with your skills, experience and aptitude the course. Whilst some will of course have more practical experience than you, most won’t have.  

We at the Institute of Conservation focus on movable heritage rather than the built environment, however the principles of conservation and heritage professional standards are still relevant. For us at Icon the Professional Standards are:

  1. Assessment of cultural heritage
  2. Conservation options and strategies
  3. Conservation measures
  4. Organisation and management
  5. Professional development

Underpinning these five criteria are professional judgement and ethics – this is something which you will really only pick up through practicing in work. Your internship will have helped you start to develop these skills too. Furthermore your academic studies in English and Law will have also helped you to develop your analytical skills and attention to detail which you will use when considering and assessing different conservation strategies.

So onto advice and guidance:

  • First and foremost you are doing the right things, you have taken time to decide what it is you want to focus on and have gained a lot of experience along the way which will really help you kick start your career.
  • Remain focussed – you should set yourself long term targets and then realistic short term targets to help you get there. Talk to people working in the field you’re looking to get into (if its law and heritage for example talk to Historic England or even your local planning department) to bounce ideas off of and to give you guidance on specific courses and training you’re likely to need.
  • Make the most of networking opportunities and learning from people from different backgrounds – you should get lots of opportunities to do this on your MSc programme.
  • Continue getting work experience – academic studies show you have the knowledge and understanding of the topic, but by being able to demonstrate an ability to apply what you learn in the real world can only really be shown through actual work experience.

I hope this helps!

All the best

Patrick


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