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The ethics of conservation: protecting our heritage

Living in the British isles, we're fortunate to be surrounded by a rich and vibrant history, which is represented through our iconic historic buildings. At Highlife, we're truly passionate about protecting and preserving this link to our past, and that ethic permeates everything we do. Based in the heart of North Wales, it's hard to ignore the castles and churches in every town, with the myths and legends surrounding them. It's something we're proud to see, and so when tasked with the responsibility of working on such buildings, we take that responsibility very seriously.

Conwy castle: Members of the Highlife team were subcontracted to work under Sally Strachey Historical Conservation

The conservation of cultural heritage is defined as using "any methods that prove effective in keeping that property in as close to its original condition as possible, for as long as possible." But what does this mean in practice?

When working on any project, we believe in maintaining these simple ethical guidelines:

  • Minimal intervention

  • Appropriate materials whenever possible

  • Full documentation of all work undertaken

  • Working in a reversible manner

Sometimes when working on a historic building, it might be tempting to change the specification to bring it in line with modern standards, but this would generally be done at the expense of some other feature of the design. A common example of such an error would be pointing or plastering with cement, when the building was originally built with lime. Of course, there are some features such as iron staples which would ideally be replaced with a stainless replica, but any such changes would always be made as a last resort, mirroring as closely as possible the original design, and with the full consent of the architect. Making these changes in a reversible manner also helps to preserve the original design, and if something is deemed to be inappropriate further down the line, it can always be changed.

Nothing breaks our heart more than seeing a beautiful building ruined by uncaring workers, who were more concerned with finishing quickly than finishing well. Unfortunately, a lot of the work we wind up doing is fixing the errors of the past, especially damage done in the past century since the emergence of Portland cement. But rest assured that here at Highlife we always do our best to protect and conserve. It's not just for our personal satisfaction - these important buildings remind all of us of where we came from, who we were, and where we are going. Without them, we lose our place in the history of the world.


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