TV makeover for heritage sector

Heritage charities are nervously bracing themselves for the fallout of a primetime 10-part BBC series called Restoration that begins next week.

The corporation says the twice-weekly programme will "fight to save our architectural heritage". It aims to get the nation involved in restoring old buildings by showcasing 30 properties, the majority of which are maintained by charities, and asking the public to vote on which one it wants to save.

While the gaze of millions of viewers at 9pm on BBC2 could provide a significant boost to income and volunteers, charities are concerned that getting the public to vote on the future of historic buildings is a little vulgar.

Matthew Slocombe, deputy secretary of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, said: "It does sort of cheapen the process - but we take the view that it's a good thing overall as it offers a solution to the problem of disrepair in this country. It should dramatically raise awareness of this issue and that is good for us and the sector as a whole."

The National Trust declined to get heavily involved with the making of the programme, which is produced by Endemol, the company behind Big Brother.

Trust spokeswoman Sian Evans said: "The approach didn't really sit very smoothly alongside our needs. They are hoping to generate a lot of cash for one building but what happens to the other 29?"

Restoration will transform Marianne Suhr and Ptolemy Dean from humble buildings experts at the society, a 126-year-old charity that saves old buildings, into celebrities.

Suhr, an historic buildings surveyor and Dean, a conservation architect, are both society scholars who have graduated through the charity's training programme on practical building conservation. Suhr also works two days a week at the organisation as its education promotions officer.

The society is hiring staff to cope with the anticipated flood of calls when Restoration begins. It has also added a section on the TV series to its website at www.spab.org.uk.

Each one-hour programme, presented by comedian and SPAB member Griff Rhys Jones, will highlight three neglected buildings. The winners will go through to a voting play-off, with the corporation pledging to pay for the restoration of whichever cause wins the most number of votes.

The BBC has established a Restoration fund for donations. It is also launching a Restoration book, magazine and phonelines as spin-offs to the programme, which coincides with the thousands of heritage open days that are traditionally held in late summer.

Nineteen of the 30 houses whose lives and needs will be debated by the Restoration experts are maintained by building preservation trusts, many of which are small, locally run charities.

Nicky Richardson, an administrator at the Association of Preservation Trusts, expects the series to have a radical impact: "It's a great opportunity to show people that you can get involved locally with restoring old buildings."

Restoration Secrets, showcasing properties that have already been restored, will follow each programme on digital channel BBC 4.

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