(c) Louise Newstead
(c) National Trust Images/Alex Ramsey
As mentioned before in my earlier diaries, Mount Stewart House is currently in the middle of a huge restoration project.
After a couple of centuries of being lived in and over 35 years of National Trust visitors, the house was in need of some TLC. This is a very exciting time for those of us who work there, as we are seeing our house being ‘done up’ and secured for the future.
Our main contractors are local firm H&J Martin. They have several sub-contractors (known as ‘subbies’) who carry out the specialist work such as joinery, painting, plumbing and electricals.
There is also the firm DJV Insulation who have been working on the asbestos removal.
Asbestos removal has been a major challenge, taking about twice the time it was expected, as at the time (1920’s and 30’s) the bathrooms were installed in the house; asbestos was the miracle substance being used in building work. It was only many years later that it was realised how dangerous it can be (it is fine when in undamaged condition, the danger starts when it breaks down or gets damaged) and many older buildings are riddled with asbestos – including Kensington Palace in London!
DJV are a family run business from Hillsborough with over 20 years experience in asbestos removal. A major reason they won the Mount Stewart contract was the experience of their foreman, David.
They work (and have to) in a very careful and particular manner. Areas have to be sealed off with tents, the men work in safety gear (goggles, helmets, suits, breathing apparatus etc.) and stringent safety procedures are followed – it is always better to be safe than sorry!
The tents need to be air tight, so a smoke test is done before the work starts to make sure. A controlled exit route is established for removal of contaminated material and nobody else should be within the route during the specified removal times. This contaminated material is carefully disposed of later.
It is very detailed work. For instance, absolutely everything under the floorboards needs thoroughly cleaned (pipes, wires, beams, plaster) and this takes a long time.
I remember one Friday last year, when the DJV boys told me that (after a week working at Mount Stewart) they had to go to Ballyquintan beach the next day. Sadly it was not to enjoy ice-creams or build sandcastles but to remove asbestos that someone had dumped there!
Father and son team, Bill & William McAllister carry out the all-important air tests to ensure that, firstly, asbestos is present and then that the area is clear after removal.
It is good to have responsible & skilled people to carry out such potentially dangerous work.