A day in the life: It’s just like a jigsaw

March 30, 2007

The tasks for Essex’s estate management director Andrew Nightingale involve slotting together ideas on funding, erecting a wind turbine and tackling the planning committee

FEBRUARY 2007

8.30am

I usually drive to work, although I try to do the half-hour walk one day a week. First job is Outlook on, spam off. The first meeting is with the security manager to review any overnight incidents at any of our campuses. It’s the usual mix of welfare and security issues. The Colchester campus is very safe, but our new campus in Southend Town Centre may provide some challenges.

Any spare time today will be spent drafting a paper outlining our capital investment strategy and progressing the acquisition of a new building for the East 15 Acting School in Loughton. I’ve identified 30 issues the strategy will need to address, ranging from underinvestment in maintenance (yes, I know all estates directors say that, but it’s true) to reducing the university’s carbon footprint.

10am

The accommodation group meets to consider the allocation of space for the next academic year. It’s like a gigantic jigsaw, moving the pieces around and making them fit. Very rewarding when it works, but frustrating when you realise a piece went missing from the box years ago.

1pm

Lunch at my desk, time to clear a few dreaded e-mails and catch up with three of the deputy directors: maintenance, capital and development, and purchasing. We work well as a team and there’s a good rapport between us, making meetings fun as well as productive. Discussion centres on the feasibility project for a wind turbine on campus. Some years ago we proposed it as a spoof in the university newsletter. How things have changed.

2.30pm

The afternoon involves a review of a recently completed capital project, with the builder, the project manager, the client and me, the estate management project officer. An uninhibited discussion ensues, from which we all learn a lot. Had the job gone wrong, we would have been too concerned with protecting our contractual position to have such a constructive discussion.

5pm

I pick up Liz, my wife, then drive to Loughton to address the planning committee considering an application for two temporary buildings on our campus there. The officers recommend approval. The committee disagrees on a 7-5 vote. I restrain Liz from telling them what she thinks of democracy in action. In the car we agree that addressing a committee where the majority party is the BNP is not easy. We adjourn to the Loch Fyne restaurant, enjoy a splendid meal and drive home.

11.30pm

The day finally finishes. Some you win, some you lose.

Andrew Nightingale is director of estate management, Essex University, and past chair of the Association of University Directors of Estates.

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