When Phil Waterson arrived at Darwin as Clerk of Works 26 years ago, he wasn’t 100% convinced the College was ready for him.
“When I was shown my office,” he recalls, “it was piled floor to ceiling with equipment and supplies – lightbulbs etc. I had to make a tunnel to my desk. So the first thing I did was clear all of that out to a cupboard, so I actually had space to work.”
If Darwin wasn’t fully prepared for Phil’s arrival, his departure will be an even greater adjustment. Over nearly three decades, he has overseen the day-to-day maintenance of the College buildings, as well as managing the redevelopment of buildings from the Newnham Terrace houses to the Causewayside flats, and the building of Bradfield Court.
“We’ve bought and sold a lot of properties, gradually consolidating the site by bringing everything closer together. When I started we had some accommodation behind the police station by Parker’s Piece and Oxford Road – we couldn’t check what was going on in the buildings and housekeeping couldn’t get in to clean. By selling those, and buying others such as The Malting House, Ashworth Park, and former shops along Newnham Road etc, we’ve made it all much easier to manage.”
The College has grown significantly in numbers as well as in building stock, in a period which represents almost half of its 60-year existence.
“It’s changed enormously since we’ve got bigger,” Phil says. “There’s a lot more paperwork, a lot more risk assessments – you can’t just run up a ladder anymore. Life is safer, but a lot more complicated!”
What hasn’t changed, however, is the propensity of students to keep making the same mistakes as their predecessors, leading to the same headaches for the maintenance team.
“It’s been lovely working with the students over the years trying to make their life more comfortable whilst they are at Darwin. But they also left us some surprises, such as sinks and baths overflowing!”
Phil has worked closely alongside three successive bursars, collaborating on building and development works, and enjoying all the challenges these would bring. The earliest of these brought a unique skillset to the role.
“Andrew Thompson, who appointed me, was an ex-RAF pilot, a lovely guy. If we had the odd quiet day he used to say to me ‘are you up to much Phil? Shall we go up?’ He’d take me flying and we’d take some aerial photos of the College.”
With a background as an electrician, but the ability to turn his hand to most trades, Phil has left his mark on the physical fabric of Darwin life. But even after 26 years, he’s still wistful that he’ll miss the next phase of change – the introduction of air-source and river-source heat pumps.
He and his partner plan to make the most of retirement, through travel and other adventures, but he won’t be putting his feet up when it comes to maintenance.
“We have a house; my two daughters both have houses so there’ll always be a project for me to get my teeth into.”