Kelmarsh Hall’s Operations Manager, Des Brack, marks 25 years at the country house this year – after starting out as a tenant on the estate as a young father in his twenties.
Mr Brack moved into a cottage on the estate in 1990 and when estate staff discovered he was a roofer by trade, he was soon enlisted to help with odd jobs at the estate’s cottages in Kelmarsh village. It soon became a full-time, permanent position and Mr Brack has never looked back. In the early days, he helped to re-roof all the cottages in Harrington Road and other properties within the estate. From his role in maintenance, he branched out into forestry purely by chance after a tractor got stuck in a ditch in the woodland. After helping to cut down some of the surrounding trees so the tractor could be removed, he was offered training to become a forester, a position he went on to hold for about 10 years.
Mr Brack, who has always lived locally, remembers being interviewed by the last resident of Kelmarsh Hall, Miss Lancaster, before he was given his tenancy. He said: “Miss Lancaster always interviewed prospective tenants to make sure they were suitable. I can still remember being shown in to see her in the living room. She had a very dry sense of humour.
“At that time, there were still a few ex-workers from the hall living in the cottages in the village and the hall was pretty much closed up. It would open for one Sunday afternoon a month during the summer. The first floor rooms were a bit derelict – they were more like storage rooms. Miss Lancaster was in her nineties at that point so not an awful lot got done.”
After Miss Lancaster died, a charitable trust was set up to oversee the conservation of Kelmarsh Hall so that it could be enjoyed for future generations. A visitor centre was established, the hall and gardens were opened to the public much more regularly and it became a popular wedding and event venue. After being promoted to Operations Manager, Mr Brack helped to set up the large events site in the grounds of the hall, which attracted English Heritage’s Festival of History and other large-scale events.
Other major projects Mr Brack has overseen include the re-roofing of the hall, which was Kelmarsh Hall’s biggest restoration project to date, and the installation of green energy in the form of a water source heat pump in the lake. He also put in place a conservation management plan and continued his professional development, completing a Masters in Conservation of the Heritage Environment this year and starting a second Masters in Building Surveying. Mr Brack is also Capital Works Manager for the next big project at Kelmarsh Hall, the redevelopment of the basement area into an education space which will tell the lives of those who served in the hall.
Looking back on the last 25 years, Mr Brack said: “I thought I would just work here for a while doing bits and bobs but I never left. There’s always an opportunity to get involved so when things have cropped up, that’s what I’ve done. It’s given me an insight into how an estate is run, both from the practical, hands-on side of things, to the management point of view.”