The Twentieth Century Society

Campaigning for outstanding buildings


What do we do?

We campaign to save outstanding buildings and design that have shaped the British landscape since 1914. Some are iconic, others are little-known gems, but all of them are irreplaceable and many are under threat.

How do we do this?

We articulate why individual buildings are important and how they can have viable and positive on-going uses.  We put buildings forward for listing, and make sure our arguments are made as loudly as possible, by targeting media and key decision makers.   Our team includes experts, members, volunteers and supporters, as well as a small core staff team We undertake casework related to planning applications for listed buildings, as we have a statutory role in the planning system.  Our front-line work is backed up by our events and publications programmes, which are leading contributors to the growing understanding and appreciation of C20 architecture.

How are we funded?

C20 is a registered UK charity and our funding comes from a variety of sources.  The largest contribution comes from membership subscriptions, but we also receive an annual grant from Historic England directly to support casework. Other sources of income include events, publication sales and donations, including legacies. In a typical year, approximately 55% of our income comes from subscriptions (including Gift Aid), 21% from the Historic England grant, 13% from profit on our popular events programme and 10% from unrestricted donations and legacies. Our major recurring costs are on staff (58%), other overheads (such as IT, office rental 29%), our highly regarded magazine ( 9%) and on our other publications.

How many staff do we have?

We have 1 full time and 4 part time members of staff. Staff devoted entirely to casework cover 1.6 Full Time Equivalents. We rely on many volunteers to help support the running of the office, events and social media and all our Trustees are unpaid volunteers.

How many local groups do we have?

We campaign across Britain and our regional network is growing, with seven local groups currently active (East Midlands, West Midlands, North West, Yorkshire, West, South West and Southern). Our local groups give us eyes, ears and a powerful voice, wherever irreplaceable buildings and design are under threat. Each one runs a programme of informal events to raise the profile of outstanding buildings in their region and supports our campaigns. Their local knowledge makes them unique and essential.

How many events do we run a year?

Our popular and vibrant events programme includes lectures, walking tours, weekend and longer trips in both the UK and overseas. High quality speakers, subject experts and access to buildings otherwise inaccessible are just some of the hallmarks of the events programme. In 2019 we ran 69 separate events including foreign tours to India and Stuttgart.

What does casework consist of?

Casework is involved and time consuming and so we have to prioritise. It can cover: analysing applications and supporting documents provided by applicant, reviewing past planning history and C20 involvement, researching building history and significance, contacting original architect etc., if still alive, assessing applications against local and national policy, reviewing changes to relevant national, and local government policies, reviewing relevant HE guidance, meeting with building owner and consultants/HE/Local Conservation Officer and Planners, including site visits, responding to casework enquiries sent by members of the public, Society members and interested third parties, liaising with other local and national amenity bodies

What sort of cases do we comment on?

We comment on: buildings constructed from 1914 onwards, applications for planning permission, applications for listed building consent, applications for conservation area consent, proposed local plans which might set policies for specific buildings and tip offs about buildings threatened with demolition/change or neglect.

What are listed buildings?

Listing marks and celebrates a building’s special architectural and historic interest, and also brings it under the consideration of the planning system, so that it can be protected for future generations. The older a building is, the more likely it is to be listed. All buildings built before 1700 which survive in anything like their original condition are listed, as are most of those built between 1700 and 1840. Particularly careful selection is currently required for buildings from the period after 1945. Usually a building has to be over 30 years old to be eligible for listing.

How does the listing process work?

There are two main routes to listing, “thematic” and “spot”. Anyone can nominate an individual building to be listed and C20 regularly does so itself, and also writes in support of other organisations or individuals. However generally only buildings  considered under threat of demolition  are currently being progressed by Historic England. Historic England has its own strategic programme of listing priorities (thematic). Owners can pay for an expedited listing service, but can also apply for a Certificate of Immunity from Listing, for a period of 5 years. However, if this is turned down, the building is almost always listed.

In all cases HE makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) based on the published Principles of Selection for Listed Buildings. The Minister makes the final decision as whether a site should be listed or not.

Buildings under 30 years old will only be listed if they are “outstanding”, i.e. worthy of Grade II* or Grade I.

Listed Building Consent is needed for all work to a listed building that involves alterations, extensions or demolition which will affect its character as a building of special architectural or historic interest. Applications are made to the local planning authority.

How is C20 involved with listing buildings?

C20 Society is a “statutory consultee” which means we have to be notified of all applications for LBC (of buildings of any date) if they involve demolition. This means we first must sort through all the applications to find those which affect C20 buildings (“the NOP sort”). We don’t get notified of applications for planning permission for as yet unlisted buildings via the statutory route, or LBC ones where there is no substantial demolition, or for conservation area applications, but these reach us via many other routes, including tip-offs from our vigilant members

How many cases do we handle a year?

We provide around 600 responses to cases per year.

With an extra £30,000 a year, we could increase our case work staff to 3, enabling us to send an additional 350 responses per year.

We could also pursue more cases in greater depth, and make more positive alternative proposals for how building can be sensitively altered and upgraded.

How effective are we?

Casework can sometimes be difficult to quantify, positive results sometimes emerge only after long periods, but we punch above our weight (for only 1.6 caseworkers). There is growing public appreciation of C20 Architecture and positive perception of our expertise and influence. We achieve broad press coverage and have growing social media reach, alongside support from the wider conservation community. Even lost individual cases can take the broader argument forward constructively (and for this reason we need to fight some cases even if we think we can’t win them).

What does the future hold?

We are constantly scanning the horizon to identify economic and social changes which will impact on C20 buildings, and we have recently committed to extending our remit to C21st buildings.  With growing concerns for climate change, we recognise that very large amount of embodied energy that the buildings we care about represent, is an increasingly compelling argument for keeping them, but that they will need to be adapted to improve their environmental performance, so we need to inform the debate around how that should happen.    We will be campaigning for an ever increasing number of buildings, in very challenging circumstances.