Kate Pugh's love for British architecture was ignited at Oxford, and she now works doggedly towards its protection as chief executive of The Heritage Alliance.
By Lindsey Harrad
St Hilda's, 1969
After a bit of a false start reading PPE, Kate Pugh switched to history and economics. Immediately she realised that she had found her niche. She took her history of architecture papers under Howard Colvin, and for her career in heritage she found that this was the perfect grounding.
‘I’m always interested in what I’m looking at, why it was built, who by, and why it was built at that particular time – and Oxford, of course, is an open history book.’
Pugh recalls that it was a visit to Minster Lovell (below) during her Oxford years that proved to be a lightbulb moment. ‘It was then that I knew there was something more to this than just the building I was looking at; it’s also about the emotional response. This is so important to what I do today as chief executive of the Heritage Alliance. There is much more to heritage than bricks and stones. It’s also about the bond between people and buildings, and what it gives us in terms of our sense of identity and wellbeing. It has wide-ranging social, economic and environmental benefits.’
The Heritage Alliance is a coalition of non-government heritage organisations founded in 2002 in response to the government’s concerns that the sector was too fragmented to be clearly represented. ‘One of the things I’m most proud of is that we have moulded these diverse independent heritage organisations into a coherent and confident body,’ says Pugh. ‘All of them have the same aim: to ensure the particular slice of our heritage they are passionate about is passed onto future generations and in good condition. They want the benefits of that heritage to be realised by governments, communities and individuals.’
The Heritage Alliance works beyond its members with the other big players in the sector: the government’s advisor Historic England (formerly English Heritage), the Heritage Lottery Fund and, in Europe, its counterpart Europa Nostra.
In its role as an advocate for the sector, to influence key decision makers and ‘heritage-proof’ future legislation, one of the Heritage Alliance’s key campaigns for this election year is to find ways to support better repair and maintenance of heritage properties.
Above: Conrad Bird of the GREAT Britain campaign speaking at a Heritage Alliance debate
‘One of our bugbears is that there is VAT at 20% on maintenance, repair and adaptation but zero VAT on new build, so that distorts the decision-making,’ says Pugh. ‘Repair and maintenance is the best strategy for caring for historic buildings – the unlisted ones as well as those protected for national benefit – and it’s a more sustainable solution from an environmental perspective than demolishing and building new. We are looking to persuade the government to create financial incentives to encourage people to care for older buildings better, whether they are charities, not-for-profits, commercial or private owners. That’s definitely the best way to ensure our heritage survives to delight and inspire future generations.’