As part of the Skills theme of our Sector Resilience Interview series, we heard from Jonathan Thompson, Senior Heritage Advisor at the Country Land & Business Association. Jonathan tells us all about the support CLA offers its members on using skilled professionals, and why encouraging the market demand for heritage skills is an important part of the resilience picture.
Read on to find out more.
Jonathan, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the heritage sector.

The CLA (Country Land & Business Association) has 27,000 members who manage rural businesses and land, including at least a quarter of all heritage – making us much the largest stakeholder group of managers and owners of heritage.  This includes many major listed buildings and monuments, but most is the unglamorous, sometimes undesignated, but vital heritage of cottages, farm and industrial buildings, stone walls, and bumps in fields. 

My job as CLA senior heritage adviser is also unglamorous, but is at the heart of resilience: helping all those owners to ensure that heritage is usable, valued, and financially viable, because – given its high maintenance costs – heritage that isn’t viable is inevitably at potential risk.  This isn’t easy.  And although 98% of owners think heritage is important, approaching half think the actual heritage protection system is ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ (Historic England; and CLA/Historic Houses surveys; 2022), so we all need to do more work on this.

What heritage advice and support does the CLA offer its members? How does this help skills resilience in the heritage sector?

The CLA provides its large audience with 1:1 advice, webinars, and extensive guidance notes written from an owner viewpoint.  All this helps members manage and change heritage in informed, sympathetic, and financially-realistic ways. 

It especially stresses using heritage skills, because that pays, both in better heritage and financial outcomes on the ground, and (often if not always) in quicker/better consent decisions.  This also builds market demand for heritage skills.

Why does resilience require market demand for heritage skills?

The Historic Environment Forum (HEF) conference on heritage skills some years ago concluded that years of sector work to build skills supply had had only limited success, and that it was vital to work just as hard on skills demand because, without sustained demand, we won’t create sustained supply.  HEF set up what is now the HEF Heritage Skills Demand Group (HSDG), co-chaired by Patrick Whife of ICON and myself.  The establishment of the HSDG was identified as a priority action for the sector’s overall skills resilience under the Heritage Sector Resilience Plan, and the group has endorsement from the Historic Environment Forum to develop a plan of action that will raise awareness and encourage the demand for skills.

Lack of demand – because owners use non-heritage-skilled people, or simply lack the confidence to do anything at all – is not easy to fix, but particular HSDG focuses include improving planning policy so that heritage applications will include genuine analysis of heritage significance and impact, and making it easier to find and employ heritage-skilled people.

What does success look like?  Do you have plans to measure this?

If we can get this right, and especially if people begin to use heritage skills much more, that will show up in more and better applications and better outcomes;  and the Historic England, CLA, and Historic Houses research which shows where things are now not working can be re-run to show whether they have improved.

How can colleagues find out more, or get involved?

More detail about HSDG and how to join the group can be found here.

You can join the CLA at


Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

Regulation often has the (entirely unintended) outcome of putting hurdles in the way of the good guys while leaving the bad guys unaffected.  For heritage, we need to find careful ways to reverse that, better controlling the small minority of bad guys, but above all proactively helping benign owners to give heritage a viable future.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Jonathan Thompson as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities. 

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum