The last time I had a landlord was five years ago. After the estate agent connected us we met a couple times, but mainly corresponded by email. I probably saw her builder more often. Pretty standard tenancy stuff I'm told.
The National Trust is quite possibly Britain's biggest landlord and in West Wycombe Village they have been working with more than 50 tenants during a massive refurbishment project.
I spoke with Cliff Percival, National Trust Lead Rural Surveyor, who has helped spearhead communication with tenants in West Wycombe Village which is one of the first and largest let estate projects for the National Trust.
Cliff shared his experiences and thoughts about the village, its amazing roofs and the future of its picturesque High Street. (A few weeks ago Cliff sent me a link to watch a short pre-war film on National Trust properties. It showed the West Wycombe High Street virtually car-free.)
NV: You’ve worked to keep tenants informed and involved, how have you gone about this?
CP: We've had two open days which are open to the entire village – tenants, private home owners and business owners. Along with other National Trust staff I meet, greet and explain what we're doing in general terms. We began early and tried to make sure people understood what was going to happen.
Well before the works started we arranged to visit the tenants in their home. This has given us the chance to talk to tenants in the privacy of their own homes and sometimes it might have been the first time we would have met the tenant, or had even seen inside the cottage.
What do you find out during these first meetings and what happens next?
These first meetings went very well. They have often been a very good opportunity for us to explain to each individual tenant what the project is going to mean for them by way of upheaval, the range of works, and whether they need to be relocated, which isn't often.
We get to hear from them directly what issues have been bugging them about the cottage, the long outstanding issues that have been niggling away that have never really been tacked properly. So it's really being that listening ear to gather information so they know we're taking this seriously and that they understand the processes.
During the meeting we explain the role of the National Trust Project Manager, Mark Wells and let tenants know that he will be handling the day to day building works until the end of the project at which time it is handed back to the General Manager and us to manage from there on.
What has been unique about this project in West Wycombe compared with other properties?
I think it proves that if you are serious about improving the thermal performance of a listed building there is nearly always a solution on how to do it.
The re-roofing project has been very valuable and a very good experience. It's opened up a potential debate about how much work we should and could be doing to improve the thermal performance of our cottages because it's almost shown that nothing is impossible. And that's actually quite an important lesson to come out of it.
People in the past had been saying ‘we can't do much because it's a listed building, or shouldn't listed buildings be exempt?' You sometimes get the impression that some landlords hope this will provide an excuse for not having to do so much work but I think what West Wycombe has done is blow the lid off that argument - quite literally !
What does the future hold for West Wycombe Village, do you have any concerns?
I'm worried that we haven't addressed how to keep the fronts of the High Street buildings looking smarter because of the persistent road traffic. There's no point having a brand new roof on a building but having paint work facing the street looking shabby – in time people will stop looking at the roofs and just notice what they see at street level. We need to ensure West Wycombe continues to look ‘cared-for’ long after the project is finished.