Epitome of estate management best practice can be seen throughout the FM operation of the 400-year-old Middle Temple estate in central London
One of the most fascinating aspects of the FM role is the sheer diversity of tasks and responsibilities it includes, with the management of the Middle Temple estate providing one of the best examples of this. Located close to the north bank of the Thames river, it covers an area of 24,300 sq m and includes both Grade I and Grade II listed buildings, formal gardens and courtyards that require specialist care and maintenance throughout.
In addition to private apartments, the estate includes office facilities, the Grade I listed Temple Church, another Grade I listed building that houses the restaurant and library and more in the list of 43 buildings.
The formal gardens and courtyards require considerable upkeep and there is a constant need to both monitor the condition of all aspects of the estate and repair and maintain it to resolve any faults and prevent others from developing.
Middle Temple FM Alan Gilbert began his role during the first year of the Coronavirus pandemic which resulted in him being one of the few people to attend the site on a daily basis.
Although this allowed him to familiarise himself with the extensive estate quicker than would otherwise have been the case, the majority of maintenance, construction and repair projects had to be continued, with some brought forward while the estate was in lockdown and much quieter than normal.
The estate is over 400 years old, having been established in 1608 following the signing of Letters Patent by James I. In addition to the many centuries-old buildings on site, it is also designated as a conservation area and is one of four Inns of Court.
When FM Director met Mr Gilbert on site last month, the sanding and refinishing of the dining room area was approaching completion, which had been preceded by the installation of a new oak staircase. The latter had been installed to provide a fire escape, which was the main requirement for increasing the capacity of the dining area.
“Looking at the staircase, it would be difficult to tell that it’s new, as it matches the surroundings, but it cost us £250,000 to manufacture and install,” says Mr Gilbert.
“We also have to sand and refinish the oak flooring of the dining area every year, which means we have to be very careful in protecting the original artworks, oak panelling and artefacts within the area.”
The oak-panelled walls of the building provide a sophisticated background to a number of original oil paintings, with suits of armour also on display that were cleaned and returned after the sanding of the floor had been completed.
Private functions are held in the rooms adjacent to the dining area on a regular basis and all works are planned to allow these to be held and uninterrupted where possible.
One of the recently-completed projects included the painting of the exterior walls of one of the Grade II-listed buildings on site. While the painting itself is more of a routine operation to organise for Mr Gilbert and his team, the repair and repainting of the building’s iron railings was less straightforward.
“The plinth that held the railings in place was crumbling and allowing water to leak into the building”
“The plinth that held the railings in place was crumbling and allowing water to leak into the building,” says Mr Gilbert. “It was therefore necessary to remove the railings, which are Grade II-listed, cut off the bottom ends that were fairly heavily corroded and weld new metal pieces in their place, then rebuild the plinth with a resin coating that will prevent any frost and water damage for quite a few years.”
While it is essential for all facilities to be repaired to high standards, the importance of this for the Middle Temple estate is twofold in that it has to comply with the requirements of the listed status of many of its buildings, which additionally then helps to meet the high expectations of members and visitors.
Its membership includes many of the leading figures of the UK law profession, with visitors ranging from world leaders and politicians to members of royalty and the nobility. Those touring the site will usually be taken to the Queen Mother room adjacent to the dining area, for example, which has carpeting that includes the crest of the Bowes-Lyon family and was used by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother on a regular basis before her death in 2002.
The dining area, function rooms and library building and its courtyard are highly likely to be Mr Gilbert’s next main area of concentration, due to two major faults emerging over the course of this year. Tree roots are causing several of the large flagstones to be lifted, which will need to be rectified to avoid them becoming major trip hazards.
Further to these works, a restoration project is also being planned for the front entrance of the building, after cracks were found in the exterior walls, indicating that subsidence is occurring.
“We’re monitoring the walls closely to make sure that the problem doesn’t escalate, but it’s looking increasingly likely that the walls and steps will need to be underpinned,” says Mr Gilbert. “The lift that provides access to disabled visitors is also unreliable, so we’re looking at creating a new entrance and installing a replacement lift to improve this, which can be combined with the underpinning works to keep disruption to a minimum.”
In addition to its core focus of providing top quality facilities for the legal profession, Temple Estate is frequently involved with the entertainment sector, particularly in the use of its older buildings, some of which date back to the 17th century.
Parts of the site continue to be lit by gas lamps – there are 160 in operation – which help to further enhance the ‘stepping back in time’ feel that has proved particularly attractive to film and television companies.
“We’ve had some of the top Hollywood actors on site, including Tom Hanks and Tom Cruise,” says Mr Gilbert. “The estate is also popular with makers of TV series and documentaries, which provides another aspect that livens up the working day on a fairly regular basis.”
The estate is also a popular venue for special events such as weddings and celebrations, which are coordinated by its events team. Additional in-house delivered services, including painting and decorating, carpentry and woodwork and grounds maintenance, are managed by Mr Gilbert and the on-site team, which includes joiners, plumbers, painters, two co-managed electricians and five housekeeping staff.
Mr Gilbert also manages administrative staff and included in this is the running of the estate’s helpdesk function. At the time of writing, Middle Temple was aiming to update this with another option that is also used by another of the Inns of Court, with the aim of benefiting from enhanced functionality.
Expanding team of professionals Outsourced services are delivered by cleaning, security, catering, mechanical and electrical, construction, IT, telecommunications and waste management providers.
Further to these areas, Mr Gilbert finds it essential to work with a number of other specialist service provider businesses, which seems entirely logical when considering the requirements of complying with all aspects of the unique, historical site.
“We can’t just use Joe Bloggs and his mates when replacing the roof of a listed building,” says Mr Gilbert. “That means we frequently have to pay a premium to employ the companies that will do the work to the required standard.”
This is highly likely to be the case when repairs are carried out to the Grade I listed Temple Church that dates back to the 12th century, which is jointly owned with the Inner Temple, although responsibility for its upkeep falls within Mr Gilbert’s extensive remit. The stonework surrounding the main entrance to the church is another area which will require the attention of one of the estate’s specialist service providers to fix.
“We can’t just use Joe Bloggs and his mates when replacing the roof of a listed building”
“We’ve also had to pay hundreds of pounds to have all the pews in the church rewaxed, which is another legacy after Covid,” says Mr Gilbert. “The pews were sanitised every day, but the alcohol in the sanitiser affected the wax, so this has had be redone.”
Another area of significant importance throughout the estate is that of security. In addition to the necessity of ensuring the safety of members, staff, visiting dignitaries and those using the facilities in any capacity, the value of the artworks and other items provides further need to keep everything secure.
All external service providers need to ensure that they comply with the on-site security requirements and avoid disappointment and delays by arriving in vehicles or with personnel that have not been registered in advance. Mr Gilbert provides the example of contractors that have not been able to access the areas needed to complete their tasks, which is frequently the result when the security team has not been notified about the timing and other details of their visit.
While the examples above provide instances of some of the Middle Temple’s most recent special projects, these are combined with the long list of day-to-day tasks included in the remit of Mr Gilbert and his team to ensure that it complies with all aspects of legislation.
These examples provide an indication, but by no means an extensive overview, of Mr Gilbert’s responsibilities for the ancient Middle Temple estate, which he compares to covering a similar area to that of a small town.
“It’s always different and often challenging but the estate’s been here for hundreds of years and I’m sure we’ll continue to find solutions to everything and keep it running in the years ahead,” Mr Gilbert concludes.