A mile off the exposed Northumberland coast is Coquet Island, a 16-acre bird sanctuary and Site of Special Scientific Interest with no public access except from the vantage of a circling boat or from stories and artists. The project aim was to ensure the quality of the conservation is not be compromised by work on a site restricted by fickle weather and precarious access.
Team Force Restoration has successfully removed Coquet Island from the English Heritage at Risk Register in 2014.;
Populated by breading birds, including 90% of the UK population of the protected Roseate Tern, its natural significance overlays an historical legacy of isolated occupation-a Christian retreat from the land and light for those at sea.
A monastic cell already existed there in the 7th century. St. Henry of Coquet (d.1127) lived there as a hermit monk, after which there was a Benedictine presence from the 12th century to the dissolution of the monasteries; the Dukes of Northumberland have owned the island since 1753.
The Scottish wars prompted the building of a lookout tower which in 1841 was adapted into a lighthouse. The first lighthouse keeper was William Darling, brother of heroine Grace Darling; it is still operated today by Trinity House.
Isolation offers safe sanctuary for the birds but it has caused problems for the building on the Heritage at risk register. In 2008 NECT, supported by English Heritage, undertook a conservation assessment to determine what remedial work was required on a range of venerable structures across the region to safeguard their future. Though consolidation of masonry was a theme common to most, the condition of the buildings on Coquet Island and extreme exposure made them an urgent priority for a comprehensive solution.
Despite the surreal location, works on the island required the arrangement and consent from a range of authorities (Northumberland Estates, Trinity House, RSPB, Northumberland County Council, English Heritage, Natural England), an archaeological investigation (Peter Ryder), ecological survey (TNEI) and a partnership funding package before considering contractual preparations and practicalities of undertaking work on a site restricted by fickle weather and precarious access.
NECT, as broker and project manager, acted for all parties under one funding and works contract agreement for extensive re-pointing of the starved masonry, comprehensive overhaul of external joinery and rain water goods, but also upgrading the 19th century lighthouse keeper’s cottage as essential accommodation for the RSPB wardens.
Working to a schedule of work by design team Spence and Dower, Patrick Parsons and Thornton Firkin, and within tight CDM constraints defined by CK21, Team Force’s adeptness of logistical planning would have frightened off many other contractors. Examples of constraints included; working to tide timetables; load capacity of boats for workmen, materials and tools; availability of fresh water; being banished during the nesting season; re-scheduling at short notice when the weather turned.
Risk and method strategy was carried out naturally as you had to think on your feet, and was constantly monitored, sometimes you don’t plan for surprise; rough seas out of nowhere were a constant danger boarding and unloading the boat of the materials and scaffolding that we needed for the project. On the island we put up with high winds and we constantly had to check scaffolding and even strap down boards that had become loose due to the high winds.
There was also a risk of being stuck on the island and this did happen on one or two occasions, to get around this we had to take extra provisions at the start including heating, food, and fresh water. As a whole we learnt to think about the risks associated with construction on a different level, due to the severity and hazards of this project, this also had a great impact on the team both on the island and for the staff onshore, constant liaisingand planning was the key to success.
Though management of a contract in these circumstances is in itself an achievement, the quality of the conservation work has in no way been compromised, nor has the philosophical justification for the decisions about techniques or specification. It has been an exemplary exercise in its preparation and co-operation of stakeholders, showing that heritage at risk can be safeguarded and sustainable in even these conditions, but especially in contract management and conservation expertise, despite everything thrown in the way (sometimes literally).
All stone was sourced from the Northumberland stone quarry, the new stone replacements to the lighthouse and cottage was cut on site and tooled to match existing.
Mortars for repointing and stone repair were NHL 3.5 lime and styford sharp sand. Styford sand was chosen for it well graded particles this meant that no softer sands were used, in most coastal locations soft sand can’t withstand the severe conditions that are thrown at it.
The existing roofing slates to the cottage roof were coated with bitumen; we did salvage some slate material and brought in reclaimed Welsh slate to match both in color and size.
During this contract we employed our two bursary operatives James and Barry enduring all, the project provided vital training in stone fixing, mortar repair, pinning, deep tamping, and grouting. AS part of the contract we also obtained additional training funds from English Heritage as a percentage of the work sum, this funding has helped James and Barry on a banker masonry course in Northamptonshire, known as The Orton Trust.
Construction Excellence North East Award 2013
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