20 years – a Building Surveyor’s tale

16 December 2020
  • John Day, Director of Building Consultancy Cooke & Arkwright
  • John Day, Director of Building Consultancy Cooke & Arkwright

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To mark our 120th birthday, we’ve spoken to some of our longest-serving staff members about their experiences of the commercial property sector over the past decades, and their insights on the future landscape. Today, we hear from our Director of Building Consultancy, John Day, who has been with Cooke & Arkwright for 20 years.

Tell us briefly about your journey through C&A and your current area of work

I remember my father telling me that your time on earth flies by, and my time at Cooke & Arkwright has certainly done that! I started work in the Bridgend office 20 years ago after spending a few months trekking and cycling in the Himalayas. I started the week before Christmas and was invited to the Christmas party which was a scary afternoon as I did not know anyone. I will be forever grateful to Ben Bolton for saving me a seat away from the ‘oldies’!

At that time our office was in an old rambling house where people had individual offices - none of this open plan style we are used to now. It was even not unusual at that time for rural surveyors’ dogs to be found in the office. We also had a draughtsperson who used to prepare drawings using pens and then colour washing them with water colours. There was no CAD back then.

In those days we sat with the rural team and a lot of our work involved renovating farmhouses and doing barn conversions, as well as farm surveys. I quickly learnt to have a good look in a barn before entering as on several occasions I encountered a lone bull!

Ten years ago, we decided to move the Building Consultancy department to Cardiff for commercial reasons. Commercial work in Cardiff involved a lot of office refurbishments resulting from dilapidations claims. However, in recent years this work has largely gone as a result of the large number of conversions to student flats in many of the secondary office schemes.

Could you say something about the department’s investment in people over the years?

During my time I have trained several graduates and newly qualified surveyors. I am proud to say that all have become chartered surveyors and are pursuing successful careers.

Once, when we advertised for a graduate, I remember being asked by our then Managing Director, Mike Lawley if I had considered the application sent in by a certain Tim Lawley? (I had not made the connection when the CV came in). There is no pressure to interview I was told! I quickly searched for the application form and hastily arranged an interview.

I was glad I did. Tim was an excellent surveyor. He completed a part-time course, qualified and worked with us for several years before leaving for the ‘dark side’ to become an agent in our Business Space team. I suspect that the stress of a few jobs, including a contractor digging through the tanking layer in a basement night club, which quickly filled with water to a great height, may have tipped him over the edge!

Are there any stand-out property instructions or memorable occasions you’d like to share?

One of the great joys of working at Cooke and Arkwright is the variety of work. I am proud of many of the projects I have been involved in.

I designed and project managed the conversion of a second world war aircraft hangar into a chilled store. The hanger was previously used as a spray booth for bombers and had not been occupied for 40 years. All the offices consisted of painted brick in RAF blue colours. I am pleased it is being well used in the current crisis.

I have an interest in conservation work and act as a quinquennial surveyor for several different denominations. I have procured a number of refurbishments of historic buildings, including several cottages in St Fagans that were derelict and had not been occupied since before the war. They were so overgrown with trees that we were not sure what building was underneath until the site was cleared. In one instance we found a toilet block from the adjacent primary school in the back garden. We knew it must have been a primary school as the urinals were so tiny.

More recently I am proud to have procured the refurbishment of an historic clock tower at Talygarn Manor and Country Park. It had been converted to residential, but many inappropriate modern materials had been used leading to severe damp penetration and decay. We replaced all the inappropriate with traditional materials, including rebuilding the stone parapets and rendering using lime based materials. It was a pleasure to work with traditional craftsmen who have secured the building’s future.

Beyond the office, how do you like to spend your time?

When I joined Cooke & Arkwright my spare time was spent mountain biking and caving. As I have got older the caving has become a distant memory; however, I am still a keen mountain biker. The only difference now is that I retire home and into the hot tub to recover after an outing, rather than going to the pub!

The Leekes Retail and Leisure Group have substantial property assets within the group and have engaged Andrew West to appeal against rating assessments on these properties since 2010. We have consistently been impressed by Andrew's knowledge of the property market and his negotiating skills have been exceptional. Given Andrew's outstanding performance, we would not hesitate to recommend Andrew to any business large or small seeking to appeal their rates liabilities.

Mike Fowler, Group Finance Director, Leekes Group