Alumni Spotlight - Jo Horton

Jo Horton (MA) Conservation of the Historic Environment graduate talks to us about her experience at Birmingham City University.

Jo Horton Primary

“I feel like the course has propelled me from two decades of changing nappies and playing taxi into a meaningful career and I am very proud of both.”

Jo Horton Team

Why did you chose to study Conservation of the Historic Environment MA?

I studied Interior Architecture at undergrad and was always drawn to heritage projects. On reflection partly this was due to the rich detailing and presence of these older properties, but also the innate delight from bringing something back to life. I graduated in 2010, after a traumatic divorce, and as a single mum I had only been able to work part-time, or on a self-employed basis since qualifying and this had compromised being able to build a meaningful career. Having dreamed of specialising in heritage conservation for many years, and once student loans became available for postgraduate courses, I decided to take the opportunity to get my MA while my youngest daughter studied for her A levels. The hope was that I would be able to embark on a new full-time career on completion.

What attracted you to choose your course at BCU and how has it helped you prepare for your career?

Geography had something to do with it; I live in Northamptonshire and the pattern of lectures (a full Friday and Saturday once a month) meant that the travel and disruption to our lives seemed really manageable. After meeting with Harriet Devlin who led the course at the time I was totally sold. Her passion and vast knowledge were infectious and addictive, and I just wanted to soak up some of what she carried.

I feel like the course has propelled me from two decades of changing nappies and playing taxi into a meaningful career and I am very proud of both.

What aspects of the course did you really enjoy?

Every last bit! My fellow students came from diverse working backgrounds, they continue to be a super interesting and inspiring bunch. We have all stayed in touch, cheering each other on and helping each other out whenever we can. Lectures and guest lecturers were full of information, and practical workshops and site visits brought the teaching modules to life. Going to uni and getting away for a weekend a month became a real highlight.

What did you think of the support available?

Teaching and peer support was fantastic! I didn’t really access any other available services.

What has been your highlight at BCU?

Feeling part of a bigger team!

Did you undertake a placement or any kind of work experience? 

I organised a 6-week placement with my own local authority in March of my first year of study. This allowed me to shadow a Senior Conservation Officer and get a handle on how local authority planning works. I even got to crawl around in James I’s drinking den beneath Apethorpe Palace. The placement added valuable experience to my CV and helped me to get my first conservation job. In June of the same year, I was employed on a part-time basis as a Conservation Officer for the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

Have you won any awards?

I didn’t win any awards but did receive a grant to attend a residential conference in Wales with the Vernacular Architecture Group. It was a fascinating exploration of local cruck framed buildings with a wide variety of experts and enthusiasts, their lively debate and endless questions helped to unravel the mysteries of many of the fantastic private buildings we visited.

What advice would you give to future aspiring conservation architects?

Firstly, that it really isn’t just for architects! Our cohort included surveyors, a stone mason, conservation officers and heritage consultants, a location scout, IT specialists and ecclesiastical specialists. I don’t think you can ever know all there is to know where heritage is concerned. It’s a vast topic that relies on input from multiple specialists at every stage, with new research that challenges our current understanding all the time. Dive in! Expand your knowledge! Get to know other specialists, appreciate their perspectives, indulge your passion for the rich architectural legacy we have been given and help to ensure future generations receive the same gift in better order.

Can you tell us about your current role or any projects that you are involved in?

In July of my final year, I was offered a full-time role as a Heritage Officer for Buckinghamshire Council. Having worked on a number of large-scale developments in London, I am now working with many more vernacular construction types. I just love my job! I have the privilege of being able to advise owners and developers, helping to preserve the historic environment and manage change in the most appropriate and sympathetic way possible. There’s a wonderful sense of being able to make a difference and leaving something of lasting benefit.


Architecture and Design Courses


Find out more about our courses