10 Questions: Neil Turner

January 3, 2020

Neil Turner is a director and co-owner of Howarth Litchfield, a Durham-based award-winning architect and interior designer. A qualified architect, he is also a specialist conservation architect and client design advisor. His role is leading the design practice, both in seeking new commissions and using his extensive experience to create innovative building designs for clients across a growing sector base. His main responsibilities lie in taking the business forward in an ever-changing climate, leading by example to the 30-strong firm and setting exemplary design standards adopted by all members of the team, meeting and often exceeding client expectations. He seeks to keep the prominence of Howarth Litchfield high in the multiple sectors the practice works across

What was your first break in business?

Having worked in London, Toronto and Newcastle, my experience is varied and interesting. Each experience adds a new thread to a person’s tapestry, so I don’t think there is one clear moment. Architecture is a long training and I’m a firm believer that it’s only when you have considerable experience do the real breaks come along. I’m now at a stage in my career where the ‘breaks’ are coming along, and I hope to capitalise on these opportunities.

What did you want to be growing up?

When I was very young, I wanted to be an astronaut and then I was fascinated by cars, so wanted to be a car designer. Then, during the summer holidays when I was 11, I helped the builders working on an extension at my parents’ house. That was it, I knew then that I wanted to become an architect. I’ve always enjoyed the job for its variety, including the artistic creative side mixed with the business and financial aspects of the company.

What attracted you to your current role?

A natural work ethic, I think, is the simple answer. I always work at 100 per cent effort applied in everything I approach, so becoming a director of the business simply allows me, along with my talented teams, to make the key decisions for the practice. I enjoy working in Howarth Litchfield and leading across the diverse and fascinating selection of projects that span the medical, commercial, education and conservation sectors, as well as designing one-off houses for private clients.

What is your company’s mission?

Our mission is to deliver fabulous buildings and interiors through great quality of service and skills, whether a large new build or a sensitive conversion. Budget is irrelevant as talent transcends costs. We get a great thrill out of a satisfied client. We are aware of the increasing environmental issues, so are constantly seeking ways to help and educate clients on how they can reduce energy costs and carbon footprints in their design proposals.

How do you get the best out of your team?

We encourage everyone to be ambitious. Regular staff development plans allow discussion on direction and skills. We don’t want 30 copies of one person, but 30 unique people with a common purpose. We always expect high standards from everyone, and it is why Howarth Litchfield is so successful. A director is involved in every project we undertake, big or small, to support colleagues. We have recently bought new premises and the team designed the layouts, which include a café and meeting rooms to create a working environment that is a pleasure to be in.

What has been your career highlight?

I always think it’s such a vain question and I have plenty of my career ahead of me. Each commission is exciting, and I get a kick out of every new job. Ask me again when I’ve finished and I’m sitting with my feet up smoking a pipe – I may have a better answer. I do prefer to look ahead than behind. Howarth Litchfield has a huge catalogue of completed works, which I am extremely proud of, but I’m always busy on the next exciting building.

What has been your biggest challenge?

The last decade since the 2008 financial crash has taught us to be prudent and watch all costs. It’s so easy when you are busy in a design practice to not watch the business expenses. We’ve navigated through this period with great success and are now growing staff numbers and the annual turnover of the business.

Who or what inspires you?

I take inspiration from many people, ranging from architects to local business leaders My designs are inspired by the very modern and the very old. I’m currently working on a contemporary new house being built on green belt land and the conversion of Newcastle’s listed Neville Hall to create a fantastic new facility. Both clients inspire me by their ambition, vision and nerve. I’m also inspired to keep learning and stay relevant in a changing world. My interest in technology and sustainable solutions in new and historic buildings will continue as we seek to preserve the environment.

What are your company’s short and long-term goals?

Our long-term aim is growth in the region and nationally by increasing the profile of our brand. Our profile has grown from the original partners’ reputation of reliability to an award-winning practice based on ability, talent and vision. Our short-term aims are to keep abreast of the current political issues and the impact this has on the multiple sectors we operate within.

How do you achieve a good work/life balance?

It is a tricky one to get right. I have been lucky to have been supported by my wife, Anita, who runs her own business. I think I’ve always worked hard, and I asked one of my two sons recently if I had this balance right. He answered by saying, ‘you showed us you get out of life what you put into it.’ They are now two great young men creating their own different careers, so I must have got something right.

Howarth Litchfield
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07739 934368