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Published by the Society in the Ripon Gazette, 21st November 2008
Keep an eye on your buildings, urges David Winpenny, Chairman of Ripon Civic Society

Today is the start of another of those ‘Weeks’ that are so often dreamed up by advertisers to try and interest us in their products. National Prune Week, National Barbecue Week, National Potato Week – to name a few – exhort us to feed on particular products; National Gardening Week, National Walking Week and National Riding Week aim to get us outside and active; National Knitting Week, National Craft Week and National Scrabble Week to stay inside and occupy ourselves.

And today another is beginning – but this one will save you money. From 21 to 28 November it is National Maintenance Week. This is not set aside for straying parents, but is a week promoted by one of Britain’s oldest conservation bodies and aimed at getting us all to look after our buildings.

Despite its name, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) concerns itself not just with historic houses and medieval churches, but has sound advice and available expertise for anyone who owns a property. It has long experience – SPAB was founded as long ago as 1877 by William Morris (the designer and poet, not the car manufacturer) – and it deserves to be listened to.

So what’s the point of National Maintenance Week? And what does it mean we should be doing?

Everyone who owns or occupies a property will know that it is a responsibility. Neglect things, and you’re in trouble. Let that neglect go on for too long and it will prove very expensive to put right. So National Maintenance Week is a way of encouraging us all to work in the ‘Stitch in time saves nine’ principle and regularly look out for signs of trouble.

SPAB gives a handy list of tips – a ‘Home MOT’. It suggests that you dig out your binoculars and a safe ladder and check these areas:
• Chimney – does it lean, is anything growing out of it, are there gaps in the mortar?
• Roof – are tiles or slates slipped or missing, or do you find pieces on the ground?
• Ridges – are all the ridge tiles in place, are they all well-joined or can you see gaps between them?
• Gutters – so the joints leak, are they full of leaves, do they overflow when it rains, do they actually catch water from the roof or does it drip down the walls?
• Timberwork – are the soffits and fascias, behind the gutters, and the barge boards on the gables in good condition, or are they rotting and in need of paint?
• Rainwater pipes – are they cracked, are they fixed securely, are they blocked with leaves, twigs, balls (or dead birds)?
• Gullies – at the bottom of pipes; are they clear of debris and do they work properly?
• Windows and doors – have they been painted recently, is there any bare wood on cills and sashes?
• Trees and bushes – are growing things, like tree roots or wall climbers, threatening your building?
• Walls – are there any obvious cracks or missing pointing in brick walls or cracks or missing sections in rendered walls, and are airbricks clear of obstruction?
• Ground – make sure that the ground level next to the building is at least 150 mm (6 inches) lower than the damp proof course or, in older buildings, below floor level.

All these things are simple to deal with, but you can save a great deal of money in spotting any potential problems early. Do them regularly (at least every year in National Maintenance Week) and you will keep your building in good condition. And if you want a special stimulus, why not celebrate National Maintenance Week’s happy cousin, National Gutters Day – though you’ll have to wait until next week, as it’s on Friday 28 November.

It is easy enough to spot places in Ripon where celebrating the Week and the Day would have paid dividends. Once a gutter is blocked, downpipes are broken or tiles have slipped or if ivy takes over, trouble starts. Take action now, and you might avoid some of the problems of damp, dry and wet rot, failing pointing, roosting birds and damaging roots and branches that have already caused problems to some of the city’s buildings.

• There is more information about National Maintenance Week at www.maintainyourbuilding.org.uk

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