Although flood signs still hang about the roadside and freshly dug trenches still form lines along farm fields, the wet winter feels behind us. Touching wood, fingers crossed, etc...
So I wanted to know how weather has affected the West Wycombe Village and asked Mark Wells, National Trust Project Manager for an update. I learned there's been no damage whatsoever to the new roofs, that they've picked up a prestigious building award nomination, and all on a very tight budget.
The weather has been quite dramatic during this project with last winter's long freeze and then this year's gale force wind and heavy rain, how did 2013 end for you as project manager, and what would you change if you could do it over?
Last winter was a difficult time – the snow slowed things down and made life very difficult for the guys working on site right through the winter period. However, our investment in temporary roofs ensured that works progressed despite the weather, and avoided significant delays.
The recent severe weather was a worry over the Christmas period, as we had a temporary roof remaining at 7/8 High Street – the team were on standby throughout, and to be honest I was expecting to be called out to deal with storm damage. It is testament to the quality of the work that we suffered no damage whatsoever to our new roofs, nor the scaffold / tin roof, despite unprecedented wind and rain – it really was the ultimate test of the roofs. Not only are they beautiful, but they stand up to the worst the weather can throw at them.
I am very proud of what the team has achieved – we have also been nominated for an award, for craftsmanship relating to the roof work. This is for the National LABC awards (Local Authority Building Control awards). We will find out in May if we have been successful, but it is very exciting just to be nominated.
If I were to do it over? Beg for some more money! I could not however wish to work with a better team of people – dedicated, passionate and professional. It is an honour to work with them, and an privilege to work in such a unique historic environment.
What are the main challenges for this last year ahead and how do you foresee overcoming them?
We have a huge amount of work still to do - the emphasis this year is on internal refurbishments to 30 cottages, as well as two significant new roofs including the Grade II* Steps House. The main challenge is co-ordination and timing of the works, to ensure that disruption to the Tenants is kept to a minimum. Things change constantly, and the team has to be able to respond to changes quickly.
I have a great team working on the project, and I know they will go the extra mile to keep things running smoothly. It is a real challenge to balance the Tenant’s interests, the Contractor’s schedule, the costs, good conservation practice, unforeseen problems and complete the work on time. I am confident however that the team have the skills and dedication to deliver great results.
What is your favourite memory so far of this project? And worst?
There have been numerous highs and lows!!! It is very difficult to pick one example. I am very proud however to be part of a team that has delivered high quality refurbishments to many cottages, and to have received positive feedback from Tenants, the Trustees, the SPAB and the Local Authority officers. The wider project includes archaeology and our volunteer research team – both have delivered some remarkable results. I am really looking forward to our open day in April where we can share the initial research results.
The most difficult time was probably right at the start of the project – we were running late due to planning and access issues – and it took some time to get things running smoothly. We also had to deal with running out of hand made tiles halfway through the second phase of roof refurbishments. We initially had some difficulties balancing the needs of Tenants, conservation principles and unforeseen works – not to mention the weather again and access to buildings adjacent the A40. The team very quickly got on top of the problems however, and responded swiftly to difficult issues as they arose.
Another memorable event was the NT Trustees’ visit to the project last year – they tabled some very challenging and difficult questions! Again the team rose to the challenge, and the results speak for themselves. The consensus is that we are delivering quality refurbishment works, value for money and good conservation practice.