10 reflections on 10 years of BB Heritage Studio

Big milestones are a perfect moment to reflect, to celebrate all that has been achieved and to also look forward.

This year I have a couple of big birthday milestones: my own significant birthday (not revealing that number yet!) and the 10th birthday of BB Heritage Studio, which sprang into action at the end of March 2014.

So it seems like the perfect opportunity to share 10 reflections on 10 years in practice.

No.01: The Statistics

As a starter for my 10-year reflection, I decided to Google some statistics. Apparently only 34.4% of small companies survive for at least 10 years.

When you consider the stats on female-run businesses (just 19% of SMEs are majority-led by women), then that on its own is something to celebrate.

And I am hugely proud of just keeping all the plates spinning and doing all the things that need to be done as a small business owner.

For me over the last decade that has involved being the in-house expert on heritage as well as the in-house expert on how to fix the printer and also finding the ideal workspace and the ideal work balance. And all that in itself is no small feat.

But as a conservation architect, who knew at the age of 14 that our built environment and the health and wellbeing of communities were inextricably linked, the next reflection needs to be on the root of my business WHY.

No.02: My Business WHY

Four pages with sketches and lettering depicting the values that underpin BB Heritage Studio. The first reads "Start with Why" alongside social value, passionate about old buildings, problem solving, culture and heritage. The second says Name your nemesis and has poor quality design and magic want developers who want to demolish listed. 3 has 5-star clients, including NLHF projects, charities, CICs, trusts, AHF and design-led architects. 4 has a description of an example persona which is a building preservation trust.
A snapshot of some of my business why that underpins the work of BB Heritage Studio.

At the age of 14 I did my first work experience at an architect’s office in Stoke-on-Trent. This was the late 1980s (giving away the significant birthday milestone here), and the terraced housing stock was in very poor condition and essentially had no monetary value.

I was taken on a site visit to see the challenges and reality of demolition vs upgrading. Even at that young age I could see the value to the community (and the essential sustainability) of finding a way to improve this housing rather than demolishing it and starting from scratch.

That ethos stayed with me throughout my education and early career and became the driving force as I established BB Heritage Studio.

So it’s no surprise then that one of my first projects as I started out on my own was for a community-led organisation.

No.03: Empowering Communities

In late 2013 I visited the wonderful Clayton Hall in East Manchester with my (then 5-year-old) twin daughters on a Heritage Open Day.

We all fell in love with the place.

That was, in no small part, to do with the wonderful volunteer-run community group who has nurtured this place into being a living history museum.

Over 10 years later I am still supporting them, working in collaboration with the owners Manchester City Council.

Along the way I have litter-picked in the moat, dressed up as a witch, presented proposals to a wide range of stakeholders from the local police to the Oglesby Charitable Trust, and eaten a lot of Pauline’s wonderful cakes.

A selection of people of all mixed ages all dressed as witches, standing in front of Clayton Hall.
Which witch is the conservation architect?

What I can bring is expertise to hopefully match their knowledge of their community and their energy.

Supporting communities with heritage assets is typically not a quick and easy job, and as such not all architecture practices will take it on.

But I have such a deep affinity with the time and commitment that these volunteer organisations put into their historic places that I am spurred on to find a way.

This has, and continues to include supporting other organisations such as Granby Four Streets CLT, For Tyldesley CIC, and Wirral Arts and Culture Community Land Trust (WACCLT). It also includes supporting boards, with me most recently joining Manchester Craft and Design Centre as a trustee.

There has to be a balance though, and I am lucky that I have had the opportunity from the outset to work at both ends of the scale. At the other end are projects like …

No.04: Working at all scales

Ordsall Chord, and all the other railway projects I have been – and continue to be – involved in.

When I set out on the journey to specialise as a conservation architect, completing the Post Graduate Diploma in Building Conservation at the AA in 2012, I could not have predicted what a significant part of my career would be spent working on our nation’s railway heritage.

Along the way I have accumulated a vast collection of fairly niche books and have become a self-confessed railway geek.
I love the unique challenges that these projects bring. These have varied from advising on the mortar specification to Ribblehead Viaduct and assessing the significance of various railway assets like at Whaley Bridge, through to advising on major remodelling schemes such as at Manchester Oxford Road.

And that has opened up opportunities to work on other unique projects, such as…

No.05: The diverse opportunities that (being a geek) specialism offers

Dock Branch Park and Castlefield Viaduct. Both are projects with railway heritage at their heart, but both are seeking to use redundant railway lines as a key regeneration force.

It has been fascinating to be involved in the early stages of these projects. When you are 10 years into running a business then moments of serendipity like this happen. And, as much as I have loved working on all of the rail projects, I’m really pleased that my expertise has enabled me to have a small part in these particular projects.

Although it’s not in my job description, I see myself first and foremost as an urbanist. I am endlessly fascinated by how towns and cities make and re-make themselves, so being able to use my expertise to support these larger-scale urban projects is really fulfilling. I’m excited to see how these project develop over the coming years.

No.06: Following a personal passion

Sticking with the transport theme, a standout project for me over the last 10 years has been the studies that I have undertaken in collaboration with the Canal & River Trust on their small buildings.

Our historic canal routes have a network of amazing small (sometimes tiny) buildings from lock keeper’s huts to toll houses and stables. A lot of these are unfortunately redundant. Having had a narrowboat as an office space for a number of years, I started to become a bit obsessed with them.

A conversation with a Canal & River Trust heritage advisor at a networking event led to my practice undertaking a study into how these could be reused. This is another one that I’m excited to see develop further.

No.07: It takes a village

As part of this project for the Canal & River Trust I was supported by an amazing colleague who became a wonderful mentor, advocate and friend, Mark Slocombe. Here is one of his fabulous drawings that he did for that project with me.

This is so difficult to write. Mark lost a short but hard-fought battle with cancer in March 2023. This is important to share in this reflection, as he was such an inspiration in the way he lived his life and he was such a great support for me in my business over the years. Through him I also had the opportunity to work on Perth City Hall with Mecanoo amongst other things.

If there was one thing that Mark’s support taught me it was how we build our own communities within the world of our work life. I guess the traditional term is “network”, but I do see it as an extended community or the village in which I work.

Without realising it over the years before BB Heritage Studio, while I was working at Jane Darbyshire & David Kendall, then Stephenson Bell and then BDP, I was building my village.

Thank you to all of you out there who have supported me along my journey – I feel very lucky to have wonderful connections with amazing people that include such diverse skills from archaeologists to paint experts, quantity surveyors to stonemasons.

No.08: Family first

As well as the support of all the amazing heritage specialists I get to hang out with, this business would not have made it to its 10th birthday without the support, distraction and extreme multitasking demands of family life!

My home team crew all inspire me more than they know and I really don’t think I would have achieved half of what I have over the past 10 years without their support and cheerleading.

No.09: Creative inspiration

One thing we have increasingly made more time for at home is our own creative interests. I am spending more and more time on my own creative practice which is separate from my work as an architect, but overlaps with my love of cities and place.

Any project involving arts and culture is my total happy place. I have been really lucky to be able to support arts organisations with their heritage projects and through those projects. This has particularly been the case where I have worked directly with other artists, such as at Islington Mill, vicariously feeding my creativity.

Most recently working with WACCLT on Ron’s Place has been an incredible experience and deepened my understanding of outsider art environments.

No.10: Sharing and mentoring

So 2024 marks 10 years of BB Heritage Studio, but this year will also be 24 years since becoming a fully qualified architect. I have done small bits of teaching over the years, but in 2022 I took on a role as studio tutor at Manchester School of Architecture.

At this point in my career, and having been involved in such a diverse range of projects, I am really enjoying sharing this experience and mentoring the next generation of architects which in turn inspires me and spurs me on.

Here’s to the next 10 years!

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