Life in the lakes

Roger Haigh operates across the Lake District from his firm’s historic base in Kendal. More than 20 years after leaving the world of corporate design in Boston, USA, to return to the family’s conservation practice, he charts a typical month’s work

‘Part of the front terrace is collapsing into the coal cellar: our client just wants to take the roof off and create a landscaped sunken garden, but will it enhance the setting of the hall?'

Tuesday 4th 

Called to Grade 1 listed hall at Cockermouth: part of the front terrace is collapsing into the coal cellar. An experienced structural engineer comes with me to discuss options with the owner (our long time client), and subsequently with the conservation officer and the land agent. Sometimes the most practical solution is the cheapest: our client just wants to take the roof off and create a landscaped sunken garden with a gate onto the lawns. But we have to assess the heritage significance of the terrace – will it enhance the setting of the hall? 

The conservation officer is keen to reinstate it. It is a small project but needs a high level of approvals. I am to provide and evaluate the proposed options, and keep all parties included.

Take the opportunity to have dinner with a client in the next village, High Lorton. We talk about what we are both doing, art etc. It’s all part of staying in touch with clients. She takes me for a drive past another Georgian house, farmer-owned and in need of a lot of work, which she knows I will be interested in. Yes, I’d love to renovate it, but it would be challenging.

Collapsing cellar roof. Can we just take it off?
Collapsing cellar roof. Can we just take it off?

Friday 7th 

New enquiry to renovate a very nice early 19th century farmhouse and meet the family while they’re up from the south. It was owned by the parents; now one of the sons, about to retire, wants to re-establish his local roots for his three sons and future grandchildren. First priority: make it more energy efficient and keep the rain out. It will need a new roof. The house had been modernised and the long term ambition is to restore its Georgian proportions and give the house back its character. Of course family information emerges in early briefings but Michael Bottomley, Haigh Architects retired partner, fills in the family history and connections. He is interested in social history and knows all the local estates. It is invaluable knowledge.

Monday 10th 

A day of catching up with emails and filing. It’s useful to have a piece of paper with instructions on or a drawing that you can give to the lads on site. I like a piece of paper. 

I review other projects in the office by Nicki and Simon, all at different stages of design or construction on site. Planning major database upgrade for office and project management with Jo the office manager.

Agreeing a home for a new garage. Alongside the garden wall? On the vegetable patch? On the orchard?
Agreeing a home for a new garage. Alongside the garden wall? On the vegetable patch? On the orchard?

Friday 14th

Some time in the office to work through the thorny business of siting a new double garage. We’ve been upgrading this lovely Georgian house in a conservation area and, to open it up to the beautiful garden, we’ll demolish a garage.  We wanted to put the replacement on the old vegetable plot at the bottom of the garden near the 10ft high boundary wall, but the roof would be visible above the wall. As it is a conservation area, the officer does not want to see it.

One year on and we have still not put in a planning application. We have been through options to site it on an old orchard full of rare apple trees (something neither the tree officer nor the biodiversity consultant could countenance). We have done tree reports and heritage asset statements, archaeology digs and photomontages. However, a planning consultant is now navigating the officer’s objections before we submit the application.

‘The government says it is making planning easier but the information required to submit an application has been multiplied. It wears you down after a while’

The government says it is making planning easier but the information required to submit an application has been multiplied. It wears you down after a while.

Back of the house with its beautiful elevation. Moving the garage away from the house will be a great improvement.
Back of the house with its beautiful elevation. Moving the garage away from the house will be a great improvement.

Tuesday 19th

To the Friends of Lakeland Arts Trust Summer Garden Party for hog roast. Met several clients.

Thursday 20th 

Drive south, past the southern tip of Lake Windermere and alongside the Kent estuary, to Ulverston and the last factory in the UK still making lead crystal. I’m here to meet the building owner, its contractor, its architect and CDM co-ordinator and the tenant, my glass-making client. I have been helping my client negotiate with the owner for a new front entrance, providing drawings and getting costs.  

The works are about to finally start which is exciting, although it is quite a modest design after all the grand ideas.

We are discussing health and safety issues for the work and installing some new double doors into the factory near the glass furnaces. 

Monday 24th

Keeping a watching eye on some bungalow improvements and extension, currently on the drawing board and on site. We already have a priced schedule of works from the contractor for the kitchen and have just sent the utility room drawings for pricing. It should be straightforward, but we always like to add a bit to make it come out nicer in the end. The client is already impressed with the space created by joining the dining room and kitchen together. 

Farmhouse due for renovation
Farmhouse due for renovation

Wednesday 26th

Office CPD event to share a Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings course on the eco-refurbishment of old buildings. This is a growing aspect of the work we undertake in renovating old buildings.

Thursday 27th

I take a day off to do a portrait painting course at Brantwood, where Ruskin lived.

Friday  28th

Administration in the office: staff reviews, performance evaluation, pay rises  and general review of projects. And there are invoices to prepare to keep the cash flow going – that’s all-important. 

We have a staff meeting to discuss management issues, and the status of current and future projects and staff availability. 

Finish the day with strawberries and cream for a birthday treat.