Ndai, Heritage Hero

Meet Ndai, Senior National Projects Manager at English Heritage, custodians of the Marble Arch. English Heritage cares for over 400 historic buildings, monuments and sites – from Marble Arch to world-famous prehistoric sites, from Roman forts on the edges of the empire to a Cold War bunker.

1Can you explain your role in one sentence? As Senior National Projects Manager at English Heritage I manage a range of construction, conservation (such as Marble Arch) and interpretation projects from conception through to their completion.

2How long have you been doing this job? I started with English Heritage in August of 2012. It is the longest time I have stayed with one employer.

3Did you find yourself in this role by accident or by design? Part design and part accident. I studied Construction Management so working on construction projects is not accidental. My interest had been in new-build work and as such my career began with new-build offices, houses, flats and supermarkets.
The accidental element is working on historical properties. I’d not imagined that when I first started working in construction. My last project in Scotland involved the partial retention of the façade of a historical building and converting the rear into apartments. That is when my relationship with historic structures began and I’ve not looked back since.

4What’s the best part about your role? Working for an organisation such as English Heritage means I get to go ‘behind the scenes’ in some of the country’s most iconic historic buildings and monuments. It is quite an amazing thing getting into the bowels of a building that most people don’t get to see. I also love that I can combine my passion for history and construction through these projects.

5What’s the strangest thing that has ever happened to you in your job? My work is usually building-centric. It is strange, in a totally positive way, to work on projects that had a significant people-element. One of these projects was the Richmond Cells – Voices of Rebellion project.
The 19th century cell block at Richmond Castle contains an internationally significant graffiti record, written in pencil on its lime washed walls. The record contains an array of bawdy and rebellious outbursts made by service personnel incarcerated there across the first half of the 20th century, most notably and well-known, are poignant statements and drawings left by the Richmond 16, a group of absolutist conscientious objectors imprisoned in May 1916. Our project’s objective was to conserve Richmond Castle’s cellblock to protect this internationally significant epigraphic and artistic record.
The strangest thing for me was meeting the direct descendants of the Richmond 16 and seeing their photos and hearing first-hand about the people whose inscriptions we were conserving. It was surreal to be connected with the past in this way.

6What do you enjoy doing when you are not at work? Enjoying a lovely meal with great company! Some of my favourite cuisines include Italian, Japanese, and Indian.

7What do you like about this area? I live in a quiet part of the country, so I enjoy the energy and diversity here. Also, the culinary options.

8What’s your favourite fact about the Arch?I didn’t know there was a space inside the Arch! The police used it in the 1960s as an outpost during demonstrations. It is quite spacious and feels like a time capsule. When you enter, it is like stepping back in time right in the middle of modern London.

9Where’s your favourite place to go for lunch in the local area? Zayna for a spicy lunch and a cooling lassi.

10Who is YOUR hero and what is it about them that inspires you? A newcomer. My three-year-old daughter. She’s a curious, joyous, funny person, highly creative in her thinking and a great storyteller. She helps me work more efficiently and I’m inspired by her solid belief that all things are possible. She’s not constrained by facts. It changes your thinking.

11If you could visit anywhere in the world, where would it be?Top on my list are The Galapagos islands. It is a challenging location to visit but very rewarding too I expect.