Chartered Institute of Building Magazine of the Chartered Institute of Building

Opinion

Conservation with the National Trust

8 January 2021 | By Katherine Mortlock

From conservation repairs to mansions to managing budgets, Katherine Mortlock’s working day as a building surveyor with the National Trust is never dull

Describe a typical day in your job?

As with many surveying roles, there is no such thing as a typical day. My role is a great mix of site-based activity and desk time. 

Yesterday was a site day; I try to make best use of my time while at a property, so I visited a couple of our holiday cottages to assess reported damage following the recent storms. I then had a pre-start meeting with a contractor and tenant farmer for an insurance-funded repair project on a barn. The afternoon was spent in one of our mansions with a structural engineer and conservation specialist, discussing repairs to ornate plaster ceilings. 

The remainder of the day was spent returning missed phone calls and answering emails.

Does working for the National Trust demand specialist skills/knowledge?

Yes, obviously traditional skills and conservation repairs feature strongly. There is a wealth of knowledge within the National Trust, so if I don’t know the answer, I have a number of willing colleagues who are happy to share their knowledge. 

Having said that, there are also the maintenance issues that you would expect at any site: water leaks, roof leaks and sewage problems to name a few, it’s just that some of the infrastructure is more historic and this can present additional challenges.

What are the challenges/rewards of your role?

Every job has its challenges, and this one is no different; from ensuring we are getting value for money while also maintaining a high quality of workmanship to managing budgets for short-term cyclical tasks, the challenges of my role are probably very similar to most other building surveying roles. As for rewards – I don’t think I will ever lose the thrill of being able to access all areas of these amazing buildings. 

To work on these iconic buildings, knowing that the work I do will ensure they continue to survive and be enjoyed by people for years to come makes this my dream job.

Katherine Mortlock is senior building surveyor (Norfolk, Suffolk & Essex Coast) at the National Trust

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