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Meet the Barbican: Craftsperson Neil Anderson

Neil Anderson in the Barbican Conservatory
24 May 2013
4 min read

Until retiring in summer 2018, Neil Anderson was the Barbican’s Head Craftsperson, responsible for managing and maintaining the second largest Conservatory in London.

We introduce you to the many faces of the Barbican, from curating to marketing, press to programming, gardening to gift shop, as we meet the people that bring the Barbican Centre to life every day.

Until retiring in summer 2018, Neil Anderson was the Barbican’s Head Craftsperson, responsible for managing and maintaining the second largest Conservatory in London and our hidden tropical oasis in the City. In this interview from 2013, we learn more about his work in our popular Conservatory.

How long have you been working at the Barbican?
Too long! I have almost completed a life sentence at 29 years.

Talk us through your average working day. 
I arrive around 6.15am and though not fully awake, I take a quick look around for anything untoward whilst heading for the sanctuary of our “mess room” and the kettle. Check my emails over tea and toast and mentally map out the day’s schedule and venturing into our “own little world”. First stop is feeding the fish, checking the birds and terrapins as I head around to activate the irrigation equipment whilst arguing with Marta about who is going to water what (who says men can’t multi-task?). Once we have completed the internal watering, we check the external areas and trail a few hoses around before most of the public are about then head back to the mess room for a hard earned break. Quick check for any new emails and reply if necessary, then it could be any number of things from general maintenance (sweeping, tidying beds and cleaning pond filters) to more technical tasks such as deciding on what to have for lunch or even some pruning, re-potting, propagation, implementing the biological pest control or such like.

What is the best part of your job?
It’s difficult to pin down to a single aspect, but our working environment and variety of work must be favourites. A quiet sunny morning broken only by the sound of water and birdsong – can you better that?

What is the most challenging part of your job?
Getting out of a warm bed at 5am in winter to the sound of rain beating relentlessly on the bedroom window and contemplating the thought of the bike ride in along the A2. No, like any job involving the public or within a public venue, there are challenges, especially prioritising work (when it involves water) around last minute events.

Do you have a favourite spot in the Barbican Centre or Estate?
Undoubtedly the Conservatory. Early Sunday mornings on a bright day, any season of the year almost makes it a pleasure to be at work. I prefer those quiet outdoor areas such as the grassy banks to the lake at the rear of St Giles Church looking to the ruins of the old London Wall, a close third must be the view from the roof of the Conservatory looking West over the rooftops.

What was the first performance or exhibition you saw at the Barbican?
One of first performances I saw was when I plucked up the courage to approach the then Managing Director Henry Wrong for landlord seats for my friend, wife and two small children to see their favourite story, The Snowman. He was very generous and I was an instant idol to the children. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the year, but I may add that those children now have children of their own! The title of my very first performance sadly falls foul of my memory, however I can remember that it was a saxophone extravaganza – featuring many renowned saxophonists and it was brilliant.

What is your best Barbican memory or experience?
A few years back I took my own children and two of their friends to see Jack and the Beanstalk with an evening tour around “daddy’s work”. They not only loved the colourfully lit jungle, with the giant fish, birds and terrapins, but the excited looks and smiles on their little faces after the whole evening was an experience I won’t forget, let alone the children.

Outside the Barbican, what is your favourite thing to do/favourite place in London?
I must confess I rarely visit London outside of the workplace, mainly due to the distance from where I live. However, this does make those infrequent shows or cinema and sightseeing tours even more special, especially for the children.

Do you have any advice for people interested in pursuing a career in Horticulture
There is such diversity to Horticulture. All I would say is to look into as many of the different aspects as possible to ascertain your ideal path to follow. Then, like most subjects, take a course that will provide you with a good basic foundation on which to build upon. Above all, unless you have chosen your path, don’t get bogged down with academic qualifications, apply yourself to as much practical and varied courses or work (even voluntary) that will give you that insight, knowledge and experience to accompany your academic achievements, and may also help chose the field of horticulture you wish to pursue.

Describe the Barbican in five words. 
Vibrant, thought provoking and friendly.

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