Campaigning guide on how to save Victorian and Edwardian buildings

Read more about how to notify us about a building under threat, or how to start your own campaign…

To notify us about a building at risk in your area, or if you are a Local Authority contacting us regarding proposed alterations to a Victorian or Edwardian building, please click here to notify our caseworkers.

Want to start a campaign to save a building near you, but need some advice? Scroll down to read our extensive guide to campaigning.

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Campaigning Guide:

Want to save a Victorian or Edwardian building? Read our tips for an effective campaign…

Please let us know about threats to important Victorian or Edwardian buildings as soon as possible so we can try and help. As a charity, we don’t have the resources to run a campaign for every threatened building. This page gives you the information you need to help run your own campaign.

Preliminary Questions

First, search online to see if anyone else has already started a campaign you can join? If not, ask yourself these questions:

  • What do I want to achieve? Are you trying to save the building from demolition, protect it from a damaging alteration or preserve it in its current use? A building is much more likely to be saved if it has a future use. Sometimes compromises are necessary to save a building.
  • Is the building worth saving? You may love the building, but you must be able to convince other people to fight for it. Are there historical, architectural, aesthetic, environmental or economic reasons for preserving the building? If you are objecting to a proposed scheme, would its benefits to the community outweigh the value of preserving the building?
  • Is it worth the fight? Running a campaign can take up a lot of time and energy which can’t always be predicted exactly at the outset. It is important to make sure you are prepared for this.

Campaign actions

If, having answered the questions above, you still want to run a campaign, start by checking your facts.

You need to ensure that you can answer as many questions as possible about the building and why you want to save it. For example, when was it built? Who was the architect? Who lived or worked there? (a famous historical name or event associated with the building will strengthen your campaign). Who owns the building? Has the building been offered for sale on the open market at a price that reflects its condition? Is the building listed or in a conservation area? Has a planning application been lodged? (You can check this on the Council’s website). You can research the history of a building at your local archive and perhaps find old pictures of the building (you can find your local archive here).

You don’t need to answer all these questions, but the more information you have the stronger your campaign. However, don’t spend too long researching trying to get every detail – time can be of the essence.

Once you have gathered information about the building, try some of the ideas below. Remember, not every idea below will be appropriate in every case.

Object formally. If your concerns have been triggered by a planning application you must object to it formally. Read about the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and write a letter setting out how the application infringes this guidance. More information on planning guidance is herePlanning Aid’s helpful guidance on commenting is here. Ensure 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 the key planning issues 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. Try and encourage as many other people to object as possible.

Take photographs. Good photographs are essential to illustrate what you are campaigning for. Try to capture a building’s best aspects – people are unlikely to want to save a building if it already looks like a ruin. Try to take a landscape picture without cars or street furniture obscuring the building. And, if you’re using a digital camera, make sure to take them at high enough resolution. Print media usually requires 300dpi.

Get the building listed by Historic England. You can apply to have buildings of national importance listed by Historic England. This will make sure that they can’t be demolished or altered without listed building consent. You can read more about listed buildings and what makes a building ‘listable’ here.

Register the building as an asset of community value? Registering a building as an asset of community value means that planning permission will be needed for the demolition of an unlisted building which is not in a conservation area. This objection is not available for residential buildings. You can find more information on the process here.

Talk to the conservation officer at your local planning authority. You should be able to find out whether there is a conservation officer on the Council’s website. You can find the website for your local planning authority on the Planning Portal. You could ask the relevant person at the Council to:

Add the building to the local list. It may be possible to get the conservation officer or other person responsible for listed buildings to put the building on their local list of buildings of historical and architectural interest. While lists vary hugely from one council to another, they do form a material consideration in the planning process. You can find more information on local lists here. If the local authority does not have a local list you could suggest that they create one. Historic England’s guidance on creating a local list is here.

Consider 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. Read Historic England’s guidance on Conservation Area Appraisals.

Consider suggesting an article 4 Direction. Article 4 directions may be used to require planning permission for the demolition of a non-designated heritage asset (such as a locally listed building outside of a conservation area). However, Government guidance states that local authorities should only consider making article 4 directions in exceptional circumstances where the exercise of permitted development rights would harm local amenity, the historic environment or the proper planning of the area. Historic England has produced more information on article 4 Directions here.

Organise a petition. One of the most effective ways to influence decision-making is to show that a lot of people feel strongly about it. You can start petitions on free online campaigning sites such as 38degrees and (though only create one online petition so that signatures aren’t divided). You can also collect signatures on the street or through sending leaflets and petitions out to local groups, making sure that you include a return address. The petition can also include information, on how to object to a planning application if one has already been submitted. 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. A big benefit of using an online petition is that you can easily contact all the signatories to update them at key points in the future e.g. a planning application is submitted or the MP supports you.

Create a website, Facebook page, or Twitter account. Websites are a good way for people to find out quickly about your campaign. You can host information petitions and other information. Facebook groups are free and easier to create and have many of the same benefits as a website. A Twitter account for your campaign will reach audiences beyond your immediate friends. If you set any of these up makes sure you include links to what you would like people to do e.g. sign a petition object to a planning application.

Flyer local businesses/ organisations. You can print posters to put in shop windows/ church notice boards/supermarkets to try and raise awareness of a building’s plight. These can direct people to your website or a petition etc.

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.

Who else can help your campaign?

The Victorian Society. If you have told us about the threat we may be able to object to a planning application etc. Please bear in mind that we have limited resources and our caseworkers have to select the most important battles to fight.

Get others to help run the campaign. After you have publicised the campaign other people may show an interest. Think about asking them to help share the workload.

MP. Approach your local MP and ask them to support your campaign. Make sure you are clear about why it is important. Ask them to share the campaign via social media if they use it. You can also ask them to contact the Council about the building or object to a planning application.

Celebrities. Getting a celebrity on board would be a major boost to your campaign. Is a celebrity local to the building you could approach? Does a celebrity have an interest in the type of building you are campaigning for? Ask them to share the campaign on social media.

Local councillors. Speak to them and try to win them over to supporting your campaign.

Local media. Contact the local media and let them know what you are objecting to and why. If you are organising a petition or demonstration try to get it covered in the local papers. The more noise you make the more likely you are to be heard. Mention any famous connections or key supporters like the local MP or the The Victorian Society. A useful guide to writing press releases is here.

Local professionals. Can you convince a local law firm to help with the planning application on a pro bono basis? Is there a local architect who could draw up a better design? Could someone create a website for you? Could an engineer or surveyor provide an independent view on the soundness of the building and the costs of restoration?

Other similar campaigns. While the local media will hopefully 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 better 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.

Other groups interested in the particular building type. Many types of buildings will have people interested in them who can help you campaign e.g. CAMRA for pubs or the Rectory Society for rectories.

The AHF and the HTN. The Architectural Heritage Fund and the Heritage Trust Network 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.

The developer. While it sounds counter-intuitive many developers are business people and likely to listen to reasonable offers. You may be lucky enough to find someone sympathetic enough to your cause to offer to buy the building. Or alternatively you could fundraise to try and buy the building (provided the developer is willing to sell).

Always remember to…

Be persistent. Campaigning to save a building can be a long and drawn out process. 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.

Be nice! However, angry you feel about what’s happened you will get further if you are nice to people – even if they’re not immediately doing what you want. This applies to people at the Council, local groups or even a developer!