The IHBC at 25: #IHBC25

Seán O’Reilly IHBC, Director, The Institute of Historic Building Conservation (IHBC);

Since 1997 the IHBC – The Institute of Historic Building Conservation - has been supporting and accrediting built and historic environment conservation specialists practicing in the UK and, more recently, beyond.  The advocacy, learning and regulatory services we offer together form the central strategy in the IHBC’s charitable operations. They represent just we work to promote the diverse public benefits and civic outcomes of informed conservation practice.

The IHBC’s core practice guidance, our joint Conservation Professional Practice Principles (2016, update forthcoming), describes how to manage the public benefits and values of our historic fabric, structures, landscapes and places.  The paper recognises how conservation has come centre-stage for 21st century, as it now sits ‘at the heart of some of the most innovative and creative regeneration and economic development initiatives. It is not about. resisting change, but about positive management of change for the future.’

This year the IHBC reached a quarter of a century since our formal incorporation as a charity and professional body.  Marking and celebrating that anniversary across our 2022-23 subscription year means we can reach all the tiers of our governance and voluntary networks.  It also helps us target our investment in the anniversary so it has the broadest benefits for the future of conservation.

What is the IHBC
The IHBC is the professional body for conservation specialists working in the built & historic environment.  We support their learning and represent their professional interests to all tiers of UK government and more widely too.  We have nearly 3000 members and supporters – including 1000+ accredited members - across the public, private & 3rd sectors.  We also have some 30,000 users of social and digital networks and, crucially, a website, hosting our most important services, open to full public access in line without charitable objectives.

As a professional body for conserving places, we promote cross-cutting, interdisciplinary skills that align with relevant national and international standards and models, including ICOMOS and the World Bank. The nature of conservation practice means that our accredited members must be able to operate across key place-making professions.  Indeed our membership includes town planners, architects and surveyors (c.40%) with engineers, educators, architectural historians, urban designers, archaeologists, garden historians & landscape architects as well as other professional and trade backgrounds.

Practice standards are maintained through Code of Conduct, mandatory CPD, & peer review, all in line with any credible professional bodies.  As such, IHBC membership helps identify, secure, and regulate interdisciplinary conservation practitioners, and helps deliver conservation as an integrated part of placemaking

We are however comparatively small as a professional body, and thinly spread too.  Still, our active volunteers add essential capacity to our work and the wider sector: the equivalent of 10+ posts across the heritage sector when last estimated.  All these matters and more helped shape thoughts our anniversary year.

Context for an anniversary year
Context is always critical in conservation.  For the IHBC, our quarter-century anniversary coincided – usefully, as it turned out  – with a number of developments that added further weight in our planning priorities.

First and foremost the anniversary had to continue an ongoing modernisation in our governance!  In 2020 we adopted a new ‘Charter-compliant’ Constitution to reflect our evolving ambitions.  Reflecting the broadening recognition of our work, the new Constitution also allowed the IHBC for the first time in its history to establish formal activities outside the UK!  Our original, 1997 Articles – then almost a quarter of a century old, and clearly from a different era – restricted our geographical options to deliver on our ambitions to the UK. However as our practice standards look to international models - including ICOMOS and the World Bank as noted - looking more widely for new networks, with a global conservation purview, seemed the proverbial ‘no-brainer’. We could not know how prescient that planning might be until Covid!

As the pandemic continued to take its toll too, by 2021 we were ready to help lead volunteers and members out of lockdown.  We realised  early on how devastating the pandemic had been for a small but significant percentage of our volunteering members.  Also, it was not difficult for us to see that the primary challenge in our anniversary year was the need to reconstruct our human infrastructure.  So in advance of the anniversary, the IHBC’s Board allocated funds and supported plans to rebuild networks, targeting first our local volunteer networks: our national and regional Branches

Digital directions added another thread to build in in our anniversary plans.  As part of our recent modernisation, even before the pandemic struck, we had developed some sore tools, experience and protocols that we could build on then and into the current year.  That said, we still needed substantial innovation and imagination to upgrade and deliver core services.

The modernisation of our governance and linked operations dated back to before 2015, and by early 2020 we were already operating ‘pandemic compliant’ arrangements in hosting meetings of our Board of Trustees.  From 2015 two-thirds of our Board meetings virtual and by 2019 we had hosted a series of blended and open-access Councils (‘assemblies’) of up to 50 delegates.  So by 2020 most officers were familiar both with the technology and the protocols needed for formal virtual events!   

With that kind of depth of experience of digital communications under our belt, we were well prepared to be formally pushed into the ‘digi-sphere’ by the pandemic.  So right at its start, in Spring 2020, and with little more than a handful of staff, professional and technical, we replaced our planned 2020 annual conference in Brighton on 19 June with a wholly virtual event boasting practitioners from across the globe: ‘Old Towns | New Futures, Heritage Reflections and Speculations from a Global Pandemic’ (

That experience of ‘virtual’ events laid the foundation for our approach to our anniversary.  However it culminated first in November 2021 with our innovative, low cost virtual programme of free learning and public engagement for the Glasgow: our IHBC@COP26 virtual helpdesk (  That helpdesk service operated as an online public, heritage and construction sector service, opening on every day of the COP and accessible to the widest public, global audience in the simplest cheapest way possible, via Zoom  It was also the longest ever CPD event hosted by the IHBC, extending over 13 days – including weekends – and typically for 5 or more hours a day!  Clearly the virtual world could be our greatest strength for the anniversary programme too!

The good fortune of such readiness in the lead-up to the anniversary – from Spring 2020 to Spring 2022 – meant we could look to further advocating the environmental credentials of informed conservation practice as a core part of our 25th anniversary.

Planning and launching #IHBC25
As we knew where to direct our energies for the anniversary – our members – and how – by taking advantage of our digital know-how - all we need to be sure to do was to capture the right mood.  As, most of all we wanted our 25th anniversary to look at our future as much as our past, and help push ahead with our modernisation, we needed to promote a forward-looking, holistic take on the institute and its operations.  With these priorities in mind, devising the anniversary strategy became much easier to plan and programme.

The first step was to make sure our communications were in place, so we started off by launching a logo and links to some accessible digital resources on our NewsBlogs news service (

Looking to engage as widely as possible, the publication called on members, networks, volunteers and Branches to contribute ideas, proposals or queries on events, projects and/or news to the #IHBC25 programme.  Branches could register events and links to the anniversary using the social media tag #IHBC25 and the new logo, with both representing the first steps taken in our public plans.

We also appointed a new support officer – Jude Wheeler – to help develop locally-led ideas.  While specifically appointed to mend and support our post-lockdown human resources and infrastructure, attaching to that a proactive, positive and properly pitched message about the quarter-century anniversary could only help the establish the right mood for any wider recovery.

Following those design and personnel developments, we established a dedicated if very simple web hub for member and public interaction. To help control management costs, this wove itself around services we already provided as noted below.  Indeed the basic thinking was in fact modelled on our IHBC@COP26 initiative in that it offered a simple web interface into the ‘service’ network – this time focussed on the anniversary. Though publicly accessible too, this service was primarily designed for volunteers and Branches, from those wanting to promote new initiatives to those seeking targeted funds for their own anniversary and recovery events. That said, it also offered basic resources for anyone interested, from the wider public and the press.

To be absolutely sure that costs were kept in hand, the web resource page ranged around three simple sections that reflected ongoing and core services offered to our members and networks: :
• News: This links to all IHBC Newsblogs with the #IHBC25 tag. Anyone interested could sign up for free Newsblogs using the form HERE
• Events: These are posted on our public Events Calendar service, and promoted through our regular and free CPD Circular, to which anyone may sign up using the form HERE.
• Projects: Listed by individual project title, these are summarised briefly on the page and updated as required, including with links to any occasional NewsBlog posts on plans and progress.

Current developments
 At the time of writing we are half-way though the anniversary year, which ends formally in April 2023.

Already we have behind us:
• Our hugely successful – and, being hybrid/blended, both accessible and complex - annual conference, the IHBC’s 2022 Aberdeen School, which secured c.250 delegates across in-person and digital options
• Anniversary links to our range of Awards and linked funding, including our Gus Astley Student Awards and the IHBC Marsh Awards
• Our annual ‘Yearbpok’ themed on the Aberdeen School and tagged for the anniversary with logos and features
• Various Branch ‘revival’ events with anniversary links, including for some Branches their first Branch AGMs in some years, as well as anniversary-themed talks and presentations
• Two issues of our member journal, Context, with IHBC25 branding and notices, and including an issue on ‘Regulations and Codes’ and one on ‘Diversity and Inclusion’
• Dedicates news messages, at
• Consultation on the update of our core guidance, the Conservation Professional Practice Principles, as an #IHBC25 project
• Ongoing notices and links to linked events in our CPD Circular
• Regular postings in the weekly ‘News and Tender Alert’ that we issue to members of our professional services network ‘HESPR’
• Pre-School events for our next School, in Swansea in 2023, funded through the #IHBC25 programme

We have coming:
• An anniversary issue of Context
• The issue will incorporate a photo-shot on at the venue where the IHBC was launched in 1997, London’s St Pancras Station
•  of a long-delayed internal archiving plan
• Linked to that, a pilot digital archiving programme of members’ architectural and historic photographs
• .. and more, including the appointment of a new part-time Education lead, Angharad Hart, one of whose roles is a standing duty to ‘Promote #IHBC25’!

With all this in hand, I think we are advancing a programme that will both mark and build on the 25th anniversary of our incorporation, and continue what we planned as ‘A year dedicated to learning from our heritage; building on our legacy and documenting our history’.




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