Val Holden FRSA
Rooftop community visit Learning new skills Val digs for Cumbria Shaun Williamson - stonemason
Val Holden at Biggar Village Julie Westwood (owner), Valerie Holden, Mary Rudkin (owner), Councillor Mrs Helen Wall (Wildlife, Heritage and Culture spokesperson, Barrow BC) Shaun Williamson and Martin McCreedy (trainee) with restored fireplace at Queen's Arms, Biggar Village, Walney Island, Barrow-in-Furness (A Barrow BC project, funded by HLF)

Many lives have been enriched by Heritage Lottery Fund projects. There are a number of creative ways that funded projects can add excitement, fulfilment and quality to public realm improvements. Sometimes Government Deprivation Indicator statistics have been the driver for several funded programmes to upskill the workforce, create work opportunities and "regenerate" town centres. Communty groups can apply for funding, too, to bring the skills to an area and add stonemasonry, sculpting, blacksmithing, cobbling, lime-mortar plastering, thatching, hurdle-making and more to your community project.

Student trying blacksmithing A student having a go at blacksmith skills.

In the rush to create new employment opportunities through provision of premises to accommodate anticipated new businesses, the evaluation of the existing built environment should be remembered and should precede even concept stage.

Regeneration partnerships and local authorities need tools to address the process of change management. A little motivation can instigate or recognise research into the historic value of the existing urban environment.

Resident learning cobbling A villager learning how to approach cobbling for his own home.

Existing uses of places as habitat have not always been given the level of importance that would encourage communities to engage in the design process. You can change that by including heritage skills training from concept stage and by selecting sympathetic designers who will work with the community, as well as for the community.

Restoration projects, generally, have demonstrated that the public approves of replacement of original features. A shortage of skills to maintain and repair traditionally constructed properties is recognised. My work marries heritage awareness with traditional skills training. Some sectors of the public will be more interested in the results, in terms of repairs in thier community and also in engaging in a practical way. Our work will foster an appreciation of built assets at several levels whilst carrying out repairs and maintenance using trainees in traditional skills. The recommendations in the National Heritage Protection Plan accord with and form the basis of, our activities.

"The value of a well-managed, protected and appreciated hisoric environment to both our quality of life and to the economy is well established. Heritage Tourism contributes £20.6 billion to GDP per year whilst research shows that 93% of people think that in improving their local place it is important to save heritage assets." English Heritage

AEdifico Cumbria believes that successful regeneration grows out of communities understanding, evaluating and driving improvements as informed partners in the forward-planning process. Together we can engage with planning and heritage professionals to develop frameworks for any defined built area that might face change in the future: to engage communities, stimulate interest, collect opinions, assign value, embrace heritage, and engage with the forward-planning process well in advance of future changes. Although it's a lengthy process sometimes, it's often more sensible in the long-run to evaluate the built environment and develop future plans with stakeholders (including residents not otherwise engaged in the process). Doing this outside the political framework, (although elected members enjoy participating), can be a welcome addition to complement the LDF consultation process and can create more opportunities for organisations like English Heritage to engage in the heart of communities. We can bring out sensitive issues and have open discussion led by neutral facilitators.

We work to improve the built environment by restoring existing and creating new assets, underpinned by these priorities: people's wellbeing, sustainability, traditional skills, high quality design and materials.

We encourage self-determination in communities by arranging training in these areas:

  • traditional construction skills
  • professional skills related to heritage awareness and the forward-planning process

This core activity creates and services a network of advisers, residents and professionals, marrying the academic and practical aspects of heritage awareness, driving change that has consensus and participation it its heart.

We aim for these results
  • lower incidence of wilful damage to property
  • more interest in property maintenance with style/materials appropriate for the property's design era
  • transfer from training to long-term employment
  • local builders who can deliver on traditional maintenance

We bring together the people that are passionate about their home town with the organisations that are keen to promote thoughtful development, sympathetic property maintenance and first class restoration.

We see a growing number of residents engaging with confidence at all levels and we would wish to empower our elected members, several of whom are keen to understand the opportunities open to councils.

We facilitate Historic Area Assessments, Significance Statements and contributing with confidence to the new forward-planning framework opportunities presented by the Localism Act 2011.

We address inclusion by working with diverse groups of people in different ways, celebrating what each group can bring.

English Heritage on the subject of urban design:

"All successful design solutions depend on allowing time for a thorough site analysis and careful character appraisal of the context The best buildings result from the creative dialogue between the architect, client, local planning authority and others; pre-application discussions are essential.

The local planning authority and other consultees can insist upon good architecture and help to achieve it Difficult sites should generate good architecture, and are not an excuse for not achieving it.

With skill and care, it is possible to accommodate large modern uses within the grain of historic settings. High environmental standards can help generate good architecture.

Sensitivity to context and the use of traditional materials are not incompatible with contemporary architecture. Good design does not stop at the front door, but extends into public areas beyond the building.

High-density housing does not necessarily involve building high or disrupting the urban grain and it can be commercially highly successful Successful architecture can be produced either by following precedents closely, by adapting them or by contrasting with them. In a diverse context a contemporary building may be less visually intrusive than one making a failed attempt to follow historic precedents"
Francis Golding RAFC, Building in Context, English Heritage / CABE (the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) 2001.

Shaun Williamson with Josefina de Vasconcellos
Shaun with his mentor Josefina de Vasconcellos

I have commissioned Shaun Williamson in the past and had good results

It's possible to learn stone-carving as part of an affordable homes project:
Cumbria-based stonemason Shaun Williamson delivers courses for people who want to progress into a career in stone-masonry, gain qualifications, or learn just enough to make things that will last for their own homes.

Deliver on project outcomes:
We have a strong background in adding value to community projects too. If you're looking to improve your area, train jobseekers, reduce your project's environmental impact and raise the profile of your area's heritage, we've done that, learnt plenty and would love to help.

Come to us in the English Lake District, or let us come to your community and your living places.

Pick up a chisel!

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Shaun Williamson is an established sculptor and stonemason, with an interest in exploring socio-economic ideals. His many sculptures can be seen around Cumbria and beyond. He likes to give of himself and his work with young people has earned him a Princes Trust Award and recognition from HRH The Prince of Wales, Baroness Andrews and the Chief of New York Fire Dept. He holds stonemasonry training and assessment qualifications, a Bachelor of Arts, is a Member of The Artworkers' Guild and Men of the Stones and he's also a Fellow of The RSA.

Shaun has a long pedigree of involvement with people, having worked on a rich variety of Groundwork UK, Local Authority and HLF projects. His work has been recognised by HRH The Prince of Wales, Baroness Kay Andrews OBE (Chair of English Heritage) and LibDem peer Lord Maclellan of Rogart.

Shaun learnt traditional sculture techniques from his friend Josefina de Vasconcellos, who learnt from Bourdelle, who was a pupil of Rodin.

More information and pictures of Shaun's work:

This business had start-up advice from Co-operative and Mutual Solutions Ltd. and from Cumbria Social Enterprise Partnership delivered by Amethyst Training and Development Ltd.

Web sources we use:

The full text of Building in Context and its case studies are available here