Last year Scott Flutey took up the position of heritage adviser at Whanganui District Council, bringing with him knowledge, experience and a unique passion for the job and its duties.

It's something he feels strongly about.

"This is pretty much all I've been doing since I left high school," he says.

Scott left school at the end of 2010, having been one of two heads of environment in his final year at Whanganui High School.

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"I had a few years here. My Gran [Anne Flutey] was working in the property department here [at WDC]. She was retiring and I was helping her tie up loose ends. She was getting interested in public history, writing publications for organisations and I was helping her."

Anne Flutey produced the YMCA history published in 2012, 100 Years of YMCA in Wanganui: 1912-2012, among a number of other books about local people and places.

She received a Queen's Service Medal last year for her community work.

"I studied history at school and it was probably one of my best subjects, but it's not easy to envision yourself working in the heritage sector: I didn't even know it was a thing," says Scott.

It took him a couple of years to decide what he wanted to do, but the research work with his grandmother helped set him on the path he eventually followed.

Scott has a masters degree in Museum and Heritage Practice, and a Bachelor of Arts with Honours in New Zealand History, both from Victoria University. He is 27.

"When you grow up here, I don't think you realise how amazing our built heritage is. We take a lot of our buildings, and opportunities even, for granted, because we've got some amazing resources in this town for historians. Obviously the museum, but also the Alexander Library is an incredible resource for historians and heritage researchers – I think we're a heritage destination."

Scott volunteered at the Sarjeant Gallery for a summer, not long after leaving school. It was just before staff and stock moved to interim premises in Taupo Quay. It enabled him to learn to use collection management software.

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"It's all part and parcel of getting to the space I'm in now.

"I'm in the planning department, so I have to deal with inquiries around our District Plan and the Heritage Inventory. I also need to be strategising how we're going to move forward with our heritage assets, now we're in a situation where earthquake strengthening is becoming a major issue."

Scott says he deals a lot with the building team at council, which takes his role beyond planning.

"They are the public face for building owners when they deal with council.

"Heritage regulations can be confusing, so I think it's good that council has quite a few knowledgeable people in different areas: the building and planning teams, and also the parks team.

"We've not just got commercial buildings in the CBD, we've got community halls and things like that. All this stuff is tied together, and it's not just me. We've got knowledgeable people and we're here to help. I think the Whanganui District Council does a good job helping people around built heritage."

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He says Dunedin and Oamaru have similar strategies in place.

"It's a model that works. It's about engaging with building owners about strengthening, but also adaptive reuse.

"It's all very well strengthening a building, but what happens after that? It's thinking longer term about the community beyond ... it's not just a building or a place, it's what's around it that is important. It's not just me thinking about this. We've got Alan Young and Hamish Lampp who's the planning manager: we all work together."

Over the years Whanganui has lost heritage buildings through demolition by neglect, in which a building was pulled down because its poor condition made it uneconomic to repair and restore. Now the Heritage Grant Fund, limited primarily to the CBD, allows building owners to do repairs and apply paint with council subsidy, following a few heritage rules.

"The streetscape is being recognised as important now: it's a more holistic view [of heritage preservation] so that Old Town overlay and Heritage Grant Fund I think are really good, and also the Government does come in to help more now that the seismic stuff is becoming an issue with Heritage EQUIP (Earthquake Upgrade Incentive Programme).

"There's always room for improvement, but I'm happy with the progress we're making."

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Whanganui has more than 300 items listed on its Heritage Inventory on the District Plan.

"Which is far more than Heritage NZ's listings in Whanganui. We've got good local government recognition of heritage places, and heaps of those are outside the town centre.

"When a building gets officially protected, in the community's mind that means a lot, because more than the statutory regulations it's an acknowledgement that this place is important. We have lots of places with huge heritage value that aren't listed on the District Plan yet."

He says the Regional Heritage Trust is also a player in the overall scheme to protect Whanganui's built history.

"This town is small so we all work with each other," says Scott.

He urges building owners with concerns about anything relating to heritage or restoration requirements to talk to Scott or someone in council.

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Whanganui is rich in historians who can help with all sorts of inquiries about buildings and places with a link to the past, but Scott is also mindful of those people who have researched their own properties to learn the history of where they live.

"Alexander Library, Sarjeant Gallery archives, council archives, there are lots of places where people can go to learn more. Whanganui is an interesting place to research."

He says the Heritage Inventory is a growing thing.

"There's lots of scope to expand and improve on it: what people see as heritage changes over time.

"You don't just look at one building, you look at a whole set of buildings, and you often find that buildings across the whole town are linked in with each other and reference each other."

Even buildings in the brutalist style of 40 or 50 years ago are accepted as part of Whanganui's heritage landscape. Heritage evolves so that buildings being erected now could one day be added to the Heritage Inventory.

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"We do have cool architecture and projects happening."