In conversation with Dr David Farrell

Dr David Farrell is an engineer who gained his PhD in Corrosion Engineering in 1984 and was manager of the Inspection and Monitoring Group at the Corrosion and Protection Centre Industrial Services. He became the Managing Director of Rowan Technologies Ltd, who are consultants to English Heritage, and have worked on many research and development and advisory projects including trial and full-scale repairs to both historic and non-historic reinforced and mass concrete structures.  

David Farrell is retiring from the industry and teaching; the Conservation and Repair of Architectural and Structural Metalwork building conservation master class in September was his last before retirement. We sat down with David after his last course to talk about his career and memories of the College. 

Congratulations on your retirement! How many years have you been at West Dean? 
Probably about 18 years now. 

What have been your fondest memories?  
Mostly chatting to people; answering people’s questions during the presentations or alternatively being at the bar… you know, having a beer and chatting with them there. 

And what will you miss most?  
Probably meeting the people because you get some really nice people here. Of course, students on the BCM courses normally come from all over the world, at the moment it’s only the UK and Ireland, but you do meet some very nice people. 

How have the courses changed over the years?  
Initially I came in purely to give a presentation on cathodic protection and that was specifically why I was asked to come here by English Heritage, but then of course the course expanded to an overall look at different metals and their alloys, so the first half of the course is now to do with metals and their alloys, and the corrosion performance and mechanical performance, and then the second half now is in cathodic protection, so it’s changed in that sense. 

When I first started [teaching at West Dean College], I came with some big blocks to demonstrate cathodic protection, big blocks of reinforced concrete, and we’d have to bring it in – it was enormous – and we’d have to take it in the other end of the college and wheel it all around, take it upstairs and then sometimes it wouldn’t work properly [laughs]… and then we abandoned that, because it took a lot of time to set up and unfortunately we were restricted to three hours. Instead we purely gave handouts to show people what we were doing on the bench; so that’s probably how it’s changed I would say. 

What do you see as your greatest achievement? 
I would say passing the word out to people… that’s what I’m here for you know, to pass information down to other people, and that’s what I’m doing and my achievement.   

What project have you enjoyed working on the most in your career? 
Oh, lots and lots. In terms of conservation, I’ve worked in the Historic Palaces, Scottish parliament buildings, all sorts… cathedrals mainly, I do a lot of cathedrals and of course they are very old - some of them date from the 12th century and I’ve done a lot of those.  

What changes do you see happening to the course in the next five years?  
In terms of metals, probably some more different metals and alloys will come along and they’ll be discussed. Sometimes the students, they come up with different questions about developments which is always nice. Over the last five years, weathering steels have come in, so we included those in the course… I mean as new things come along you’ve got to add them to the course to keep it relevant and up to date. 

What advice would you give to students who are doing the courses West Dean?  
Well I do give out notes which do get updated, so I’d say certainly read all of that. The intention is to give them as much information as possible so that if they do bump into metals along the way in projects, they’ve got that information and they’ll have some feeling for what it is and how to deal with it. 

The courses at West Dean attract students from all over the world, have you gained insights and learnings from them?  
Oh yes certainly. Sometimes you get people from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and these other countries and it’s nice to find out what they’re doing there because it’s different from us, you know, their ideas and approaches to conservation are different to ours in the UK. It’s nice finding out what students are doing in their respective countries.