Newsmaker: Building sights - Ian Lush, chief executive,Architectural Heritage Fund

Annie Kelly

Restoration adviser hopes Olympics will help to save significant buildings.

Whenever Ian Lush is having a bad day, he looks out of his office window at a staggering view that stretches out over the rooftops of central London.

"Having most of London's architectural landmarks on hand is a good cure for the mid-afternoon blues," says the chief executive of the Architectural Heritage Fund. "Being able to look out over such beautiful buildings is a good reminder of the importance of protecting our national heritage."

Lush and the AHF are riding high on the wave of the 'Restoration fever' that has swept across the nation since the launch of the BBC TV series often described as "Pop Idol for buildings": the public votes for an at-risk building they would like to see returned to its original glory.

Set up in 1976 with the help of a £500,000 endowment fund, the charity is now a £12.5m organisation with more than 140 projects on its books.

It gives short-term, low-interest loans to charities and groups looking to save or restore a local building of interest. The AHF "takes on the buildings everyone else is too scared to", says Lush.

"A building that might have no commercial value can have huge emotional significance to a community," he says. "Buildings can provide a focus for people. Buildings such as town halls or arts centres are important in helping to create some kind of community cohesion - this is what we're focused on helping to restore."

The profile of the AHF and the general public interest in restoration are both likely to be buoyed by last week's launch of the third series of Restoration. Lush has been a special adviser to the programme since it started. He says he was as surprised as anyone at how popular the series turned out to be, and he has high hopes for the new programmes. About half of the buildings that have made it onto the Restoration shortlist benefit from AHF support.

He is also lending his passion for restoration to the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games, where he is promoting heritage issues.

"We need to make sure the Olympics leaves a legacy of restoration as well as regeneration, and obviously the two can go hand in hand," he says.

"The Olympics will help transform east London and have the potential to save some culturally and historically important buildings, too."

This work has already started. Lush has accepted the chairmanship of the Abbey Mills project - a group of derelict mills in Newham, east London, which he hopes will be transformed into an artisans' centre to help young people learn declining skills, such as stonemasonry.

On top of his work on Restoration and the Olympics, Lush also chairs the Built Heritage Forum in Northern Ireland and is part of the new government community assets ownership working group, which is planning to help introduce legislation that would allow communities the right of first refusal on the purchase of local buildings.

Formerly a musician, Lush was a viola player with the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra before deciding to make the move into arts marketing and management.

"I realised I was never going to be more than an average professional musician," he says. "I craved more responsibility. There's so much hierarchy in an orchestra that I was never going to be more than a bit-part player.

I wanted to do something where I could see I was making a difference.

"Now I feel I'm doing just that, because in my job at the AHF you are transforming and reviving a piece of history. It's an important part of rejuvenating community spirit at a grass-roots level, which is the biggest restoration project of them all."

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