This time round for Interview a Local I decided to sit down and have a chat with Trevor, one of the Car Park Attendants of Defoe House. I’m sure many of my fellow Defoers know quite a bit about him, but let me introduce him to the rest of you!
Erin – So Trevor, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Trevor – Hi Erin, well my name is Trevor Barham, and for over seventeen years I have been working on the Barbican Estate. Most of that time I have been a member of the estate concierge team, firstly as a Car Park Park Attendant (CPA) at Thomas More Car Park for five years, with the rest of that time at Defoe Car Park where I currently work. Although from September 2020 – June 2021, I worked in the Barbican Estate Office as an Estate Services Supervisor, which entailed managing half of the 40 strong Concierge team and estate services such as Car Parking Licences, bike storage and much more, so I have a reasonable knowledge of the estate, many of its staff and how it works. Most of my life I have lived, in one or another of London’s 32 Boroughs and I am a proud Londoner and love its diverse culture and architecture, I have also been a singer songwriter for 30 years this year and have written dozens of songs about life, love and London.
Erin – I know you’re a fellow tour guide, and I love nothing more than having a chat with you about London’s rich history, tell me how you got into it?
Trevor – I have loved History since I was a child and it was my favourite subject at school, I moved to Bermondsey Southeast in 2011 and I decided to start walking a for health and fitness, sometimes walking to work or home. I preferred this to using the gym and found it more interesting; I loved taking photos of interesting things I found on my travels. I had also been on a few walks around the City with City guides and found it fascinating. Fast forward a few years and a friend suggested that I would be right for the City Guides Course. I wasn’t convinced but there was a 6-week guides taster course being run at the Guildhall for 2 hours every Wednesday night in early 2019. The course tutor was and still is Alison Woollard. Alison showed us what to expect on the course and started to train us in good guiding practices and how to prepare a timed presentation and perform it in front of a group without using notes. She also led us on some tours around the City of London. This gave me the confidence to apply for the prestigious City guides course.
The City of London Guides Course is notoriously difficult to enrol on. It normally receives well over 100 applicants. Around 80 are interviewed but there are only 28 places on the course. I applied and to my surprise was offered an Interview a month or so later at the Guildhall. I was given a subject, which was Wood Street, which I had to research and prepare a speech of around 5 minutes. On the day I went to into a room in the Guildhall and in front of a panel of 4 interviewers and 3 other interviewees. I very nervously explained my reasons for wanting to be on the course and gave my 5-minute presentation on Wood Street. I dried up after about 3 minutes, but managed to compose myself and carry on until the end.
I actually thought I had blown it, so you can imagine my surprise and joy when I received the letter confirming I was going to be part of 2019/20 cohort, starting in September 2019.
The course was due to run from September 2019 – April 2020 with classes at the Guildhall every Wednesday 18.30-20.30 and a walk around the City every other Saturday. Because I work day and night shifts and some weekends I had to use some annual leave to make this work. On top of this was around 20 hours a week study time. This included 4 exams, 2 written and 2 Guiding Exams. One of the Guiding exams takes place inside the Great Hall/Guildhall, the other is made up of various stops around the City of London. But little did we know that we were going to be hit by a pandemic. The course stopped and started for over a year; our cohort carried on with regular zoom meetings practising presentations for our guiding exams. Everybody in my group was supportive of each other and we chatted regularly on our WhatsApp and still do.
I finally passed all my exams, certified by the Institute of Tourist Guiding, received my conformation of passing in August 2021 and was presented with my two certificates: Green Guiding Badge and City of London Guiding Badge – awarded to us by Vincent Keaveny – Lord Mayor of London, at Mansion House in December 2021. A very proud moment for moment for all the student guides and myself.
Erin – I remember being so happy to hear you passed! It’s a great achievement and I can’t wait to come on a tour of yours! I’m sure you know the City of London pretty well then – do you have any secret spots you love?
Trevor – There are a lot of places but the two that immediately come to mind are:
Seething Lane (close to the Tower of London) because it has the Samuel Pepys Park (Naval administrator and 17th Century Diarist) and on the end of Seething Lane is St Olave’s Hart Street – a beautiful little church where Pepys and his wife are buried.
The second is St Dunstan’s in the East, not far from Seething Lane. It’s a gothic styled derelict church which is beautifully planted out and is a favourite with gothic film makers, and a lovely spot to relax or eat a packed lunch in the summer. There is also a story about Christopher Wren’s renovation of the church after the Great Fire of London. It is an unusual gothic steeple with flying buttresses. Most of the workmen on the site believed that the steeple would collapse when the scaffold was removed. Wren and his daughter were so convinced it wouldn’t that his daughter lay under the steeple as the scaffold was removed. It didn’t move an inch.
In 1703 there was a very destructive storm that brought down 2,000 chimney stacks and several City Church towers. When Wren was informed of this he enquired about St Dunstan’s in the East and was told – no sir… that tower still stands true.
Erin – You’ve mentioned two churches, which is probably one of the reasons I just love this area – it’s full of them! They all have their own unique look about them, as well as their interesting history. Any other favourites?
Trevor – St Stephen’s Walbrook, originally dating back to the 12th Century, built on the side of the Walbrook river, damaged by Great fire of London 1666, restored by Sir Christopher Wren. It has a beautiful interior including a dome, said to be a practice for the dome of St Paul’s. It is also where the vicar Chad Varah started the organisation – the Samaritans – in 1953. The original phone that he used is in a glass case. Open most lunchtimes Monday- Friday.
Erin – I love the altar in that church, it makes it feel a lot more welcoming and I can imagine even more so during a service. And finally, any unusual facts about the City?
Trevor – There are literally hundreds of unusual facts about the City of London, but here are a few.
- The borders of the City of London are marked by Heraldic Dragon Border Markers. If the Dragon is facing you, you are outside the City, if you can see its back you are inside the City.
- The Central Criminal Court, or Old Bailey is built on the site of New Gate Prison, which in different forms stood from 1189-1902.
- St Bartholomew’s Hospital is the oldest continual hospital in Britain and was gifted to the City of London by Henry VIII after the dissolution of the monasteries. The only statue of Henry VIII in the City of London is above the original entrance to the Hospital.
- The reason we drive on the left in the UK is because the traffic on London Bridge was so dense, it was made law that traffic should pass on one side to ease that congestion. The reason the left was chosen is so that gentleman riding horses could shake hands with riders coming from the other direction or draw their sword to do battle.
Erin – You’re giving our readers the impression you certainly know your stuff! I’m sure many of them would love to come on one of your tours. You mentioned you’re organising a Barbican tour in the future; can we hear a little more on that?
Trevor – Since joining the City Guides course, when people found out I worked on the Barbican Estate, they have been asking me to write articles or give them at tour of the Estate, as I have an unusual perspective.
Since completing the course in my spare time, I have been researching and gradually starting to put together a tour of the Estate, and also talking about some of the buildings and institutions attached to the Estate, such as The Barbican Centre and The City of London School. The tour will be step free, currently 21 stops, taking around an hour and a half hour to two hours to complete,
All of the Estates blocks have names that have links to the area of Cripplegate and Aldersgate, 2 of the City’s 25 wards that the 40-acre Estate stands on. These block names are wonderful windows of the past, which I will shine a light on. I will also talk about some of the lost roads of the Barbican, who built it and why, as well as giving some insights to the area’s rich history and the people who have lived here through the centuries. I will also like to enlighten non-residents to what it is like to live on the Barbican and the small army of people (of which I am one) who are involved in the smooth, day to day running of the estate and the challenges ahead. I will also talk about the historic characters that the towers and blocks are named after e.g. Defoe House, named after Daniel Defoe the author of Robinson Crusoe, or Seddon House named after George Seddon, Master Craftsman who opened a furniture shop with workshop during the late 18th Century in Aldersgate Street and employed over 300 craftsmen. Hopefully people will find the tour informative and entertaining.
Erin – That’s super interesting! I’m sure even many long-term residents of the Barbican can certainly learn a thing or two from you.
I also know another huge passion of yours in music, do you want to tell us a little bit more about that?
Trevor – Like a lot of British kids growing up in the 1960s and 70s, listening to pop music on the radio and spending our pocket money on records, watching Top of the Pops on TV, (if we were playing outside, we went home to watch it) we listened to more radio than we watched TV. There was great mixture of styles of music, pop, funk, soul, reggae, rock, folk, jazz, jazz-funk, rock, rock n roll and much more.
I also loved going to watch live bands – up and coming original bands like The Jam, Madness etc, but also bands in local pubs playing their own versions of popular charts song. I knew quite a few musicians and bands and with a friend dabbled in managing some local rock bands in the 1990s. It didn’t lead us to fame and fortune but we saw hundreds of live bands and had a great time. Around this time, I started writing song lyrics. I offered them to all the musicians I knew but none were interested. For my big 30 birthday my mum bought me my first guitar and after two lessons with a tutor I taught myself to play guitar, sing and write songs. Around 2001 I started playing a gig here and there, then from 2006 played gigs in folk clubs and on acoustic nights, which lead to me recording my first 10 track CD in 2008, which was played on quite a few local and BBC radio stations, although no hits came from it. I have also played at a French wedding, various house parties in the USA and in a Irish [ub in Baku, Azerbaijan on St Patrick’s night, plus hundreds of other gigs including busking. The highlight of my musical adventures so far is being interviewed by Robert Elms on his BBC Radio London show – he also played a recording of one of my songs “My London” in the Spring of 2020. Since then, I have been so busy working and working on my Barbican Tour, that I have not done much musically – live shows or recording. This year is my 30th year as a singer songwriter and I had planned to release a second CD of original songs, but I have had to put that on the back burner for a while. But I am open to playing one or two festivals or charity events – I am just waiting to be asked. I also wouldn’t mind being the lead vocalist in a retro covers bands – again, I am open to offers. The last song I wrote was for The City of London Guides/lecturers association, entitled “What you need is a City Guide” which I am told they are really pleased with.
Erin – Yes, I remember you playing it to me when I was down at the car park. I’m sure our readers would love a listen! I’ll pop a link at the end of the interview.
So, back to the Barbican, any particular memories about working here?
Trevor – From the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, I was involved in contract cleaning. Part of that job was window cleaning. Some of my jobs were office blocks in the City. We used cradles to access the high outside of the windows. Most of those buildings now have been demolished and re-developed but one building we used to clean still exists. It is on the corner of Chiswell Street and Bunhill Row and now has a Tesco Express at the bottom of it. One day I was near the top of that building in a cradle with another window cleaner and I asked him about the housing estate in the distance and was told, “that’s the Barbican. It’s a housing estate for posh people and Joan Collins (actress) has a flat there”. I have never found any evidence that Joan Collins did live on the Estate. Previous to my interview as a CPA, I did some research on the Estate – seventeen years or so later I have come full circle and once again I am researching the Estate but this time, in much more detail.
Erin – I always hear so many memories of famous people who live or have lived here, but I’ve never spotted one!
What’s it like to be part of the concierge team and what does your role entail?
Trevor – The concierge of the estate is a team of 40 men and women, who operate a 24/7 365 service, who are classed as key workers and consequently worked pretty much every day through all the lockdown periods (excluding staff that are extremely medically at risk).
It consists of 12 Lobby Porters who work in the 3 towers – Cromwell, Shakespeare and Lauderdale – and 28 Car Park Attendants or CPAs who are hidden away in the Estates car parks. Their offices are at Andrewes, Thomas More, Defoe, Bunyan, Breton, Speed and Willoughby. Members of the concierge teams work 12-hour shifts of days and nights. They have no official breaks but can take ‘naturally occurring’ breaks. They work a swing shift pattern, e.g. Saturday Sunday Monday nightshifts, Tuesday Wednesday rest days, Thursday Friday day shifts, Saturday Sunday Monday rest days, Tuesday, Wednesday nightshifts and so on and so on.
Their duties vary a little from the porters and slightly from car park to car park but they include:
meeting and greeting visitors, directing them to their destinations, receiving, recording and distributing parcels on behalf of residents, regular security/fire/maintenance patrols, car park administration, resident and visitor parking, monitoring, recording resident welfare and antisocial behaviour, reporting any health and safety or maintenance issues to the relevant department, plus a smile and a quick chat with the residents while dealing with their requests and much more.
My highs of the job are doing a little bit more than expected for the residents and getting appreciated for it and helping residents in their hour of need when they need the emergency services and I guide them to the flats and all ends well. Another high is when every few years there is satisfaction survey is sent out to all the residents on the Estate and the concierge service always scores around 97/98 out of 100. It is pleasing to know the residents really appreciate all our hard work.
The lows for me are the lack of investment for the concierge office facilities (boxes) over the years and times like these when the City of London is looking for budget cuts and there is talk of closing car park boxes (offices).
I believe that to close any of the car park boxes would hurt the service as a whole, and everyone in this team of 40 men and women are an integral part of the concierge service, which ensures the safety, health and happiness or the Estate’s 4000+ residents.
Erin – Thank you so much for your time, Trevor. It’s been a pleasure to learn a bit more about you!
For Trevor’s YouTube channel, search Blokeinahatmusic where you can find samples of some of his songs, including What You Need (is a City Guide) (https://youtu.be/tAkA9-p2BwI). Go have a listen – it’s fab!