Meet Mark Camp – Gateman at The Waldens for Chase New Homes

The former Friends School will always hold special memories for Mark. With his connection to the school spanning nearly 30 years, Mark previously held the trusted position of Caretaker ensuring everything was kept in order; now some years later Mark’s current role as Gateman at The Waldens enables him to watch first-hand the restorative transformation underway at this iconic development.

Named one of the best places to live in the east by The Sunday Times, Saffron Walden is home to quaint and quirky independent spots that strengthen the gastro credibility on offer. Highlights include: Chater’s, a multifunctional café/wine bar/restaurant/general store; Mini Miss Bread, a wholesome bakery selling everything from sourdough to freshly baked cookies; and Tipi Coffee, a family-run coffee shop hailed from east London. All these new and contemporary areas opening up make the town a popular place for younger couples and families.

What’s your favourite part of The Waldens and why?

“The former Friends’ School was very significant for my family and I. My dad worked on site and put up the original fencing for the school, and my mum was a matron there for 19 years. My older brother then worked in maintenance for 20 years, and I’ve been involved in this site for 27 years, so this place is very important to all of us.

When the school closed and Chase New Homes then acquired the site, I was keen to know what would happen. The main school building has a lot of historic charm, so I was delighted to find out the work would be in keeping with the old style of the building, delivering a sympathetic restoration. I am looking forward to seeing what it all looks like when it is finished and seeing how some of the older features have been incorporated into the new design.”

The Friends’ School was created by the Quakers and has occupied four sites during its history. In 1876 the Mayor of Saffron Walden offered a new location for the school which opened in 1879 and closed in 2017. Five years and an approved planning proposal later, the site where the school once resided began to be revitalised. Although the site’s purpose has changed, its historical significance and importance to the local community has not. The school’s origins have been carefully intertwined in the new development’s architecture and design to reflect its value to Saffron Walden.

Do you have any stand-out memories from your time at The Waldens?

“Yes! I actually learnt to swim there when I was about seven. For quite a long time it was the only swimming pool in town, as the main town pool had to close.”

Could you explain your role to me?

“Having previously worked at Friends’ School, the team at Chase New Homes asked me if I would be happy to continue looking after the site whilst they were awaiting planning permission. That was about five years ago and, having accepted the role, I lived on-site covering caretaking and security roles. Chase New Homes also assisted the City of London Police Dog Section, providing space on-site for training exercises. Since construction has begun, my role has shifted once more and I am now the gate person during the day and provide security services overnight.”

What are the most important qualities a gateman should have?

In my role, having a good knowledge of the site is hugely important. The site covers 26 and a half acres, so my background here has been invaluable. As part of my security responsibilities, I am the main key holder for the site, and at one point we had over 2,000 keys so it was essential to have a good understanding of everything on site.

Can you give a brief overview of your duties and responsibilities at The Waldens?

I am the first point of contact for people when they come to The Waldens so I have a responsibility for letting people in and ensuring that everyone signs in and out correctly so we have accurate records of who is around. When we have visitors to the site, I also help to signpost people to where they need to go.

Health and safety is really important, so my role also sees me check that people are arriving with the correct protective clothing to keep them safe when travelling around the site.

Can you give me an overview of a “day in the life” of your role?

In the morning, I have to unlock all of the offices and the main buildings so that the teams on site can access the spaces they need during the day. After that, I head over to the entrance to the development, where I spend the day greeting people as they arrive.

At the end of the day, after everyone has gone home and I’ve locked everything up, I go home. The Waldens is monitored by a series of cameras so I get alerted if anything is happening that shouldn’t be, and then it is my job to come and investigate further.

What do you find particularly enjoyable about your role?

“Getting to meet new people is one of my favourite things about this role. I also like that I have the opportunity to see the full transformation of the former school – that’s quite a unique position to be in.”

The high-quality redevelopment of the Walden School in Saffron Walden by Chase New Homes will provide 96 new homes with a mix of houses and apartments facilitated by the conversion of attractive historic buildings and sympathetic new-build.  Alongside the residential offering, the development will feature a residents’ lounge and an array of sporting and recreational facilities including tennis courts and multi-use games area.

What challenges have you had to deal with at work?

Instances with ‘Urban Explorers’ who are keen to try and explore abandoned buildings – which is a health & safety risk and also causes damage if they break in. Where instances like these are identified by our cameras, I will investigate what is happening to keep everyone safe.

Do you deal with complaints as part of your role?

Saffron Walden is a historic town, so naturally some people have been quite concerned about what is happening to the site. Based on my experience working at the school, I can reassure them that I also want the best for this location and that Chase New Homes is doing an incredible job giving this site a new lease of life.

The original oak-panelled dining hall, with its stunning vaulted ceiling and exposed beams, will be restored and repurposed into a residents’ lounge. The existing wrought iron gates will be resighted within the landscaped grounds to create a stunning feature at the heart of the development. Chase New Homes will also be providing sporting and recreational facilities including tennis courts and a multi-use games area.

Do people just say ‘hello’ in passing or do they stop to chat?

There is definitely local interest in what is happening at The Waldens so people do like to stop and chat to find out more. I’ll explain to them that whilst the buildings from the 1960s and 1970s have been removed, that the main school building is being carefully converted into apartments. There are also new buildings being developed, providing even more housing. I love talking about everything that is happening as I find the process really fascinating.