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Campaigning guide

We've got a number of suggestions about running effective campaigns to save threatened buildings. Our list is by no means exhaustive and, of course, not every suggestion will be appropriate in all situations. But we hope it will get you started on saving a building you care about!

When mounting a campaign it is important to think carefully about the best ways of reaching your target audience and always to keep what you hope to achieve in mind.

Preliminary Questions

Before you launch into a campaign it is essential to ask yourself a few questions:

What am I hoping to achieve? Are you trying to preserve the building in its current use, to protect it from a damaging alteration or to save it from demolition? Bear in mind that a building is much more likely to be saved if a worthwhile modern use can be found for it and sometimes it is necessary to make compromises in order to ensure that a building is maintained.

Is the building worth saving? You may love the building for all sorts of reasons, but it is important to be able to convince other people who may not share your feelings that it is worth fighting for. Are there solid historical, architectural, aesthetic, environmental and economic reasons for preserving the building? What is the proposed scheme that you are objecting to and would its benefits to the community outweigh the value of preserving the building? Harsh though it may seem, it is necessary to be able to answer these questions in order to mount a successful campaign.

Is it worth the fight? Mounting a campaign takes a lot of time and energy and you can’t always predict exactly what you will have to do at the outset. If the campaign takes off you may need to spend hours of your time writing letters, gathering support, and attending meetings. It is important to make sure you are prepared for this at the start.

Tactics

Once you are sure that you want to mount a campaign to save a threatened building there are a number of things you can do. The following suggestions are some of the methods that we have found most successful. It is also worth visiting www.savebritainsheritage.org where there is an excellent Action Guide on how to go about saving a building.

Check your facts. Make sure that you can answer all the most obvious questions that people might ask you about the building and why you want to save it. Find out whether or not the building has been offered for sale on the open market at a price that reflects its condition – if it is listed and it hasn’t been, permission for demolition should not be given. Where appropriate, enlist the help of an architect, engineer or surveyor who can provide an independent view on the soundness of the building and the costs of restoration.

Talk to the conservation officer at your local planning authority. It may be possible to get the council to put the building on their local list of buildings of historical and architectural interest. While the lists vary hugely from one council to another, they do form a material consideration in the planning process.

Contact the AHF and the APT. The Architectural Heritage Fund and the Association of Preservation Trusts can provide information about Building Preservation Trusts in your area and can give advice about setting them up. If there already is a BPT in your area, contact them and see whether or not they would be prepared to join your campaign.

Create a fund. Persuade friends and supporters to contribute a nominal sum towards the campaign. Try to obtain free services, such as photocopying, wherever possible.

Take photographs. Good photographs are essential as a means of demonstrating what you are campaigning for to people. Try to capture the best aspects of the building – people are unlikely to want to save a building if it already looks like a ruin. And, if you're using a digital camera, make sure to take them at high enough resolution. Print media usually requires 300dpi.

Organise a petition. One of the most effective ways of influencing decision-making is to show that a lot of people feel strongly about it. You can collect signatures on the street or through sending leaflets and petitions out to local groups, making sure that you include a return address. Alternatively, you can draft a letter of objection for people to sign and send on to the local planning authority, the local MP, the planning committee, the councillors or whoever you are petitioning. Whichever way you choose, make sure that your message is clear and concise so that there can be no confusion about what people are signing up to.

Get the local media involved. Contact the local media and let them know what you are objecting to and why. If you are organising a demonstration try to get it covered in the local papers. The more noise you make the more likely you are to be heard. A guide to writing press releases is available in the SAVE Action Guide.

Find out about other similar campaigns. While the local media will usually jump at the chance of covering an interesting local campaign, wider media groups will want to see how what you are fighting for fits into a national context. If you can show that your campaign is symptomatic of trends across the country, you have a good chance of generating wider interest and getting your point of view heard. Linking up with other campaigns can also be a useful way of picking up information and advice. In some cases it can lead to the formation of an umbrella group which is able to tackle the issue at a national, policy level. The London Pools Campaign and Homes Under Threat are two good examples of this.

Create a website. Websites are a good way for people to find out quickly about your campaign. If you are organising a petition you could get people to sign up online.

Object formally. If your concerns have been triggered by a planning application you must object to it formally. Consult PPG15 (the national planning guidance notes for the historic environment, available in libraries, local planning departments, and online) and write a letter setting out how the application infringes this guidance. If a new housing development is part of the application you will also need to consult Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing.

Try to make sure that your letter reaches the planning department within the period allowed for written objections – usually three weeks from the date the application was registered by the council. Letters should be concise and clear. Emotional outbursts damage a letter’s credibility and risk losing the reader’s sympathy. Focus on what you are asking for and do not be distracted by secondary issues which may weaken your argument. Advice on writing more powerfully and persuasively is available from the Plain English Campaign.

Consider suggesting the area for Conservation Area designation. Where the building forms part of an architecturally sensitive group of buildings it may be possible to preserve it through Conservation Area designation, which is carried out by the local planning authority. English Heritage has produced a free leaflet Conservation Area Appraisals which is well worth consulting.

Be persistent. Campaigning to save a building can be a long and drawn out business. Don’t be embarrassed to follow up letters with phone calls if you do not receive replies. In some cases persistence can make the difference between saving a building and seeing it demolished.

Other useful resources

Campaign for Planning Sanity

Archive Awareness Campaign

Planning Aid: Engaging Communities in Planning

The following are useful additional reading:

If you want the Victorian Society to help

We welcome information about threats to listed Victorian and Edwardian buildings, and will supply advice and comments on individual cases where it is appropriate for us to do so.

We need photographs of the building, an outline of the current situation and/or the nature of the threat. A map can also be helpful. Because of our limited resources we are unable to to take up every case we are sent.

Contact the appropriate Conservation Adviser. For details, see our Contact page.

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