Managing the Upkeep of Teaching Environments & Boarding Accommodation On a 40-Acre Site

Episode 20

Facilities Management Podcast


About this episode

Tim Peacock, the Director of Estates and Facilities at Sherborne Girls School, explains how working with the pathology and history of older buildings is key to managing and maintaining the upkeep of a 40-acre site with both educational buildings and boarding accommodation. 


Ryan (Host): Tim is the Director of Estates and Facilities at Sherborne Girls.

Tim has worked in the hospitality industry with Apex Hotels and The Bath Pub as well as within the education sector with The Girls Day School Trust and now with Sherborne Girls.

Tim has experience with managing listed buildings and specializes in design, project management and sustainability strategy so it will be great to hear his take on facilities management.

Lauren (Organiser): Well, thanks for joining us today, Tim. We really appreciate your time to talk to us about facilities management. I’m Lauren, our podcast organiser. And as I previously mentioned, we find that facility teams are often underrated, which I’m sure you agree with? So hopefully with your podcast, we are going to further highlight the importance of FM to our audience. We do these podcasts to get insights from experts in the facilities management field, and we learn a lot from your experience.

We understand at Sherborne Girls that there is a complex estate strategy managing both educational and housing facilities. So, we know your insights will be really helpful for our listeners. With that said, I will pass you over to our hosts, our Senior Research Analyst, Charlie and Head of Content, Ryan.

Ryan: Cool. Thanks for joining us today, Tim. Pleasure to have you on the podcast. We’d like to start off with a sort of origin story, you know, how you came about. So, if you could just give us a brief overview of your professional journey, how you first got into facilities management and how you ended up at your current role.

Tim Peacock (Guest): Yeah, of course. Origin story, I like that. I think for me, from a very young age, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. And then kind of when the rockstar career didn’t work out, I defaulted to working in the family’s construction company. So, it all began there really kind of site management and working on the tools and getting involved with that kind of stuff. So that was in the end quite a few years working, mainly domestic, but some commercial bits and pieces as well. But the value in kind of working on the tools and understanding the struggles that some of our field teams and operational teams go through a day-to-day basis was really useful. And yeah, from there, it kind of blossomed into hospitality. So, from construction sites, I moved to working for some pub companies, looking after their properties, quite interesting portfolios of buildings there, and then into hotels as well. So, a few years spent working in the hospitality sector, which was very interesting, should we say, very dynamic environment, which is always interesting. And then on to education, which is where I am now, which in a lot of ways was quite similar because I have worked in boarding schools. So, there’s parallels between hotels and boarding schools with their kind of 24-7 operation if that makes sense.

Ryan: Yeah, and I guess you’ll understand we’ve been stalking your LinkedIn a bit the last few weeks, you know, trying to understand this journey as well. And what I wanted to do is just talk about your time as a business owner at Sabre Projects. How did that come about and what skills and lessons did you learn there as a business owner?

Tim: Yeah.

Tim: So, yeah, as I said, I started with the kind of the family construction company, but then in time decided to go off in my own direction a little bit. I studied for a little while and got qualifications in kind of electrical engineering and went down the electrical route, but I found that wasn’t really enough to keep me entertained. So, the project side, Saber Projects was an evolution of the electrical business, which was really just giving me a chance to explore a little bit more of the design and implementation of bigger projects rather than just focusing on specialist area. I think again once you’ve run your own business, you’re kind of you’re stuck in that mindset I think for the rest of your life. You can’t stop seeing the bigger picture and worrying about the bank balance probably and know where the next project’s coming from and where the next bit of work’s coming from. So, it definitely gives you a much kind of broad oversight of business needs. With starting a business, you’re running yourself or a much bigger kind of more multifaceted business which is where I find myself now.

Ryan: And having that skill to see the overall picture I’m sure has helped in your current role at Sherborne Girls’ School.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, it, it falls into everything. I mean, it can be operation, or it can be kind of strategy. I think when you look at both, you need to see the bigger picture and you need to understand where people are coming from, both if it’s your kind of your users on the ground have got an issue, then actually be able to put yourself in their shoes and see it from that point of view is hugely useful. The same when you’re kind of developing wider straight estate strategy. It’s that same thing as being able to change your mindset and look at the bigger picture. And yeah, definitely when you’ve got more of a, I guess, business awareness, that really helps.

Ryan: Yeah, and you mentioned there, the similarities between hospitality education, and obviously in the education setting, there are responsibilities for the ensuring a good teaching environment and learning environment as well. What are your goals and objectives in the facility management field there that you aim to achieve?

Tim: It’s really interesting. I think it’s become kind of quite apparent recently that the whole wellbeing piece has become a lot more the forefront of everyone’s minds. But I think when you work in the estates department and you’re helping kind of formulate these projects, you’ve always thought about that. You always want obviously the buildings you’re creating or the spaces you’re remodelling to be fit for purpose and, you know, engaging for the stakeholders.

Education specifically now is a lot more well-being focused and what’s really interesting is the way kind of technologies coming into that. I think there is you know a move away from perhaps just soft furnishings and you know pretty pictures on the wall and much more of a drive to make sure that actually the systems we use, be it ventilation systems or heating systems or whatever, can provide that kind of thermal comfort and provide you know a base level environment which is really comfortable.

I think that’s really important. And simple things like the lighting as well and the way that can render a space can make a huge difference, be it working in a workshop or actually wanting a nice cozy environment to go and sit after a day studying where they can relax and read a book. And it’s looking at every space we’ve got and making sure that it really answers the brief and is kind of fit for its intended purpose. So, it can continually evolving but it’s very interesting how the technology is now being embraced to ensure that kind of well-being standards are met and it’s not just about you know some biophilia and putting plants in rooms it’s definitely more involved in that.

Ryan: Yeah, it’s really interesting. We’ve got quite a lot of topics we want to talk to you about when it comes to tech and, you know, facilities management. But first off, I think it’s a 40-acre campus that you’re on at the minute, is that right? And that’s with educational buildings and housing. How challenging is that for the upkeep of such a large site?

Tim: Yeah, so we’ve… Well, yeah, it is a very mixed portfolio. I think it’s having kind of your 19th century buildings, which look lovely and full of character. I’m sure you’ve heard before is all fun and games when roofs start leaking and things start going wrong. But equally, the new buildings, they have their issues as well. And actually, there’s a lot more expectation around a new purpose-built building. So, it is multifaceted in its challenge in that mixed use to state, it’s not only the age, but the kind of the variation of activities that go on inside, which is what makes schools so fun. I think probably very similar to universities in the sense that you can have massive sporting facilities. You’ve got science labs; you’ve got performance spaces, you know, state of the art. So, it’s, it’s very interesting, but definitely a challenge to ensure you’ve got the specialist knowledge to make the most of all of this and make sure it’s all, you know, in tip top working order all of the time. So yeah, it’s certainly interesting. And the grounds part of it comes into it as well quite a lot, which is something that fascinates me is that you can be working on, you know, standard projects or day to day operations, whatever, but then you’ve also got the other element, which is the environmental side, looking after the grounds and creating habitats and all of that bit, which I’m sure will come on to later when we talk about sustainability and stuff. But yeah, it’s that kind of mixed use is it keeps things interesting, should we say.

Ryan: Yeah, sure. I mean, we’ve talked about sustainability now. We recently had Rachel Green on the podcast, who is the Director of Estates at the Girls Learning Trust. So, she went into detail about using tech, embracing AI in her role. And you touch on using it in environmentally friendly technology to help drive those sustainability initiatives. You’ve just given insight into those initiatives at Sherborne Girls and how technology has helped them meet those targets.

Tim: Um, well, I think, yeah, so just processing that one. And the technology bit, I think, for anything, I mean, it’s again, it’s another piece, which I think estates has been working on for years, kind of hand to hand with the wellbeing thing is, it’s something that we’ve always done in that, when you know, pieces of plant or equipment need replacing, we’ve always gone out to find something that’s offers better value and is in a sense, more sustainable.

Ryan: That’s quite a loaded question, Tim.

Tim: But now it’s at the forefront of everyone’s minds and everyone’s actually looking to us for the answers. I think the technology is ever evolving, so you can’t kind of pin all your hopes on the silver bullet piece of equipment coming out to solve a problem. You need to react to the challenge in an iterative way and kind of approach one little problem at a time rather than try and try and solve the question that is net zero. And for us, I think technology at the moment is about capturing data.

It’s about really measuring where we are, and sure we’ve got a really good quality picture of what’s going on our estate and where the kind of easy wins are as well. I think that’s crucial. And I think the way that data is displayed is a huge part of that. So, if we’re talking about technology and we have to capture the data, that’s often quite simple, but actually the way that’s displayed and disseminated to the various teams and stakeholders involved in making the decisions is key. And I found that plays quite a huge part because you could send, you know, your board of governors a spreadsheet full of data. Some of them will find that absolutely fascinating and be able to pull it apart. And some of them will probably not want to have a second look at it. And they’d rather much rather look at charts or something displayed as an infographic. So, it’s using technology just to take all the data and be able to display that in an interesting way, shall we say, at the moment, so we can focus on achievable goals.

Ryan: Is that a part of your role, taking it to the stakeholders in this form where they can easily digest it?

Tim: It is, I don’t think, I mean any kind of capital project which sustainability initiatives tend to be is for kind of passing past the board, so the board of governors will have a look at it and ensure that we’re spending the money where we should be and yes, being able to kind of present a business case which kind of not only proves we’re getting value for money but also reducing our carbon, then you know it’s a no-brainer for them just to tick off and say yeah that ticks so many of our goals, why wouldn’t we? So the data makes the job a little bit easier in that sense.

Ryan: Yeah, totally. Oh, brilliant.

Charlie Green (Host): So just taking a quick overview of your career so far, you’ve experienced working with new buildings such as Apex City Bath Hotel and listed buildings, which I believe both of the roles within schools have been for you. What were the differences between working on these two very different sites in terms of managing the estates and FM? And are there any specific challenges of working with listed buildings?

Tim: And yes, definitely challenges working with both. I think the difference is, it’s interesting because one thing I found, and someone mentioned to me when I started working previously at the Royal High School was the idea of buildings and their pathology and their history. So listed buildings come, you know, with years of history stories, anecdotes and all the rest of it, which gives you some a better understanding of how they’re likely to react to any given problem. So in a sense, as much as they can be a real challenge, they can be a little bit more predictable. You might, you know wake up one morning, think, oh, wind’s blowing from the east and it’s raining. That means, you know, this building is going to suffer or whatever, which makes things a little bit more predictable, a little bit easier to react to. Whereas the new building, you have no idea what’s going to go wrong. And yes, the kind of hotel opening, it was a purpose-built hotel and it was all singing and dancing in the sense we had the BMS systems, everything you could want, all the modern plant equipment. But that definitely didn’t mean it didn’t go wrong. Things did. And I think in hospitality, one of the kind of the most fun things about it, in a sense, is that dynamic environment where really, it’s all about smoke and mirrors and making sure that the boat stays afloat, if you like, and the show goes on at the front, while everything else at the back is kept ticking over.

So, so the challenges are different in the sense that with the new building, you need to trust in the people you’ve got around you, the people that were involved in the project. They’re usually very accessible and you can get them back in and building those relationships is key. Having them at the end of the phone when something goes down and they can talk you through how to get it up and running or having a relationship whereby they’ll come in and help you out is even better. But conversely, the listed buildings, you’ve got that history there. So, you may not have the person who built it on the end of the phone being able to talk you through how to fix the problem, but you have probably got people within your team if you listen to them that can tell you that this happened 10 years ago and this is the way we solved the issue, it can be a little bit more predictable and I think that’s key.

As I said listed buildings it is all about the pathology, understanding from kind of the people on the grind, the team on the grind, what the issues were, how they solved them, always listen to the team is the key there and gather as much of that information as you can and store it away somewhere.

Charlie: Really fascinating. I don’t think I’ve heard that kind of perspective before, so that’s really interesting, understanding the pathology of the building. We also read that you’re conscious of keeping up with current trends to promote innovation and best practice. But this is quite a challenge when working with listed buildings when you’re looking to incorporate new technology and all different types of stuff like that.

Tim: Yes, it is. I mean, part of my background for context, I studied design innovation. So that kind of design and innovation approach is, is central to everything I do. So yes, applying kind of these kind of purpose-built innovative ideas to a listed building is a real challenge, but I don’t think anybody works in estates comes into it unless they fancy a challenge or fancy a problem. And it’s all it’s all about meeting that problem head on, say, right, OK, fine. Maybe the solution that we’ve got in front of us isn’t perfect for what we’ve got for the buildings we’ve got. But if we are a little bit innovative, we can make it work. And I think about the sustainability bit, obviously, a lot of the targets that are there, you’ll probably never meet with a listed building. And you’ve got to accept that. And we’ve got to kind of actually apply some design thinking if you like to it and say, right,what can we do? How can we take this kind of the problem we’ve got with this kind of Building, which is predominantly quite leaky and, you know, I mean, not from a just a water sense, but actually from a thermal sense as well. How can we apply some of this technology in such a way that yes, we won’t get to net zero here, but we will greatly improve performance of this building. So, it is a challenge, but again, aligning yourself with the correct consultants and advisors on achieving where it is possible.

Thinking of examples specifically, it’s, it’s going back to technology and it’s looking at kind of BMS software because that in itself may not solve the issues, but a proper building management system, even in a listed building will give you a very real picture of what’s being utilized, how it’s being utilized, and then highlight areas which we can have an impact. We can apply some of this kind of new technology, be it kind of modern air handling systems or heat pumps, whatever it might be we want to install, we can still get some value from them. So yeah, it’s all about being a little bit innovative, I think, in that sense, and not being afraid to give something a try.

Charlie: Amazing. Just kind of sticking with software and tech and stuff, many of the experts we’ve spoken to seem to strike a really good balance between utilizing software tools to enhance their work and keep using spreadsheets. What do you find works best for you in your current role? Is there a specific education-centred tool that you use? And do you still feel that spreadsheets have a place?

Tim: Spreadsheets. I think everyone thinks they know how to use them. I certainly did. And then I kind of wander over to the finance team for a chat with them and kind of watch an accountant use a spreadsheet and realize I have no idea how to properly use a spreadsheet. It’s just a fancy list. But I think it’s kind of a project management and automated spreadsheets are absolutely fantastic for compliance monitoring. Great it’s you know a list with lots of colours on and, you know, automating bits and pieces to kind of give you due dates. It’s a tool that everyone to an extent knows how to use. Everyone can interact over and you can capture the information. However, I think the bit that’s missed quite often is going back to the building pathology. These buildings, a lot of them are hundreds of years old and probably go on for hundreds more years. Trying to get all that information on a spreadsheet will mean a lot to the author but nothing to the successor or someone 20, 30, 40 years down the line.

So, I think we’ve got to be quite conscious that the buildings will outlive us and we’ve got to find a way to display this information, record this pathology if you like, the building’s history on something other than a spreadsheet. So yes, they definitely have their place but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking they are the only tool we need. I think for us from an educational point of view, it’s quite interesting what’s happening in kind of the wider context with BIM, being able to model a building from conception to completion and then into kind of into use. I think that’s something that we’re trying to start to capture is almost measured surveys, models of our buildings where we can record on a physical or digital model of the physical building information about you know what we found it might be useful for certain rooms or spaces and how they perform thermally, or it might be just a list of planned maintenance works that happen through the years. So, the hope is that you know further down the line there is a model there which has got a visual representation of all the work that’s happened and for those that don’t perhaps process data and spreadsheets well they’ve got a visual tool which will be which will be key and I think, it links to the teams that are working for us. They’re often engineers, maybe stonemasons, people that are not going to have too much interest in using a spreadsheet, but be able to give them a physical layout of the building and say, here’s a plan, or here’s a model of the building, this is all the stuff that’s happened in the past, you know, is of much more use to them. So yeah, technology designed for kind of the intended user is hugely important as much as spreadsheets have their place, they’re not for everyone and I think even if I pretend, I know how to use them, I definitely don’t as much as some others.

Lauren: That’s really cool. And as we touched on earlier, an important aspect of this podcast is to drive appreciation for facilities management teams. We feel it’s important to recognize how hard these teams work, especially within the education sector. And we see just a few examples of what you cover in a day in your current role, such as strategic planning, financial management, and compliance management. With all of that on the top of estate management. With that said, how do you think FM teams should go about driving appreciation?

Tim: Yes, it’s a really interesting question. And I’m not sure I know the answer. I don’t have the golden bullet answer. I think what I’ve found personally is that we often take for granted we work in this kind of silo, whereby I’m surrounded by teams who speak the same language as me in a lot of senses. We all talk in a very technical language, if you like. We understand what each other are up against as far as challenges. But the stakeholders and the users of our buildings, they don’t have any idea. And I think there is a very simple kind of rule to be applied, which is just go out and talk to these people and just share some of the day to day, because I’m often surprised by how interesting they find it. So, I’ve started when I do kind of briefs to the wider staff body, for example, just talking to them about stuff that they maybe they do find a little bit boring, automated emergency light systems or new BMS software we’ve had installed. But it starts to give them some context. It starts to give them an idea of, okay, they’re not only looking after the health and safety and the big capital projects, but they’re also doing this, that and the other on a daily basis. So, it’s just kind of disseminating that information to anyone that will listen. We try and get kind of the wider staff body involved with some of the more interesting activities and kind of thinly veiled as well-being. We’ll invite them for a walk around the grounds for a litter pick just to help the grounds team or something like that but just something to give them you know an idea that it’s not just a team of kind of 20 30 individuals waiting for the phone to ring and a problem to come up its they’re out there every day working in the kind of the rooms that no one else sees and in the background and I think also sharing information with my managers and my team.

It’s not trying to make a estate’s management into a dark art. It’s sharing the problems and the issues and being honest and saying, you know, X has broken down today, we have no idea how we’re going to fix it. So, you know, that’s the problem we’re working on. And just being honest with the fact that yes, every day there is a new problem for us to solve. We don’t immediately know the answer, but we will have found it by the end of the day. And just not trying to hoard the information and keep it secret, but just share it with everybody that will listen to you, I think is our way forward.

Ryan: That sounds very collaborative, you know, getting your team together, working on the problem instead of almost scapegoating someone, why isn’t this working, you know, you always come together and fix that issue.

Tim: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And I think it goes back to that design thinking, but again, it’s if you can be collaborative, then involve as many people as possible, they probably have a better solution. And a lot of the time they do. Like, I think, I might know best. I think the way that I’ve done it before is the way forward. But then, out of the blue, someone will come up with a very simple solution. They’ve never thought of before. Yeah, okay, fine. That’s, that’s probably the way forward. And yeah, I think it’s just been able to accept that there’s different approaches and that might be the solution.

Ryan: Yeah, sure. Well, one final question now, Tim. So, we like to end these podcasts by leaning on your experience so you can just provide a bit more insight to others. What advice or words of wisdom would you give to someone just starting out in facilities of maintenance management?

Tim: Interesting, I think advice and words of wisdom. For me, I’ve had a lot of my team in the past have got on to do kind of the FM role. So, I must be either convincing them to do it or giving them some kind of inspiration to go on and do something similar. I think I’ve said to them really just do the job your own way. I think what people need to recognise with FM Estates Management is that you can’t know everything. You can’t be a surveyor, an engineer, an HR professional all in one, there are going to be gaps in your knowledge and if you do things your way and focus on kind of your area of expertise then you know you’ll go a long way and then build a team around you that can fill the gaps essentially. But also just be that person who asks a stupid question just any anytime you’ve got a meeting with consultants, and it seems to be getting a little bit long-winded a little bit boring just, just ask the stupid question, because someone else in the room will be very grateful that you’ve done so. And that will really kind of further your knowledge, and I think build the confidence. And then finally, I think with estates, there’s such a kind of wide range of opportunity. It’s recognizing the type of environment you want to work in. I think it could be listed buildings with kind of all the conservation and that goes with it. Or it could be modern estates or something with agricultural land to manage or whatever but I think that’s the key bit because as you grow kind of with the roles you’ll grow in that area of specialization so if it’s going to be listed buildings you want to end up in then and start there and kind of grow with the buildings.

Ryan:.Perfect. That’s is Tim. Thanks so much for chatting with us today. You know, it’s been great to get a really deep insight into the ins and outs in FM and also the upkeep that’s required from you and your team, you know, on campuses, educational buildings, boarding houses as well. Yeah, so thanks again and we’ll be back soon with some fantastic guests like Tim. Bye for now.

Tim: Thank you.