Neil May MBE

Neil May (MBE) 1962-2018

It is rare, in a world of ever-increasing specialism, to encounter someone with the multiple talents that Neil had. It is even rarer to find such courage and integrity, which shone through in everything that he did.

Most importantly for the STBA which Neil co-founded in 2012, he had a practical background. His years in the building trade gave him a no-nonsense approach to the challenges of retrofit – which were the primary concern we have had to address.  At the same time, he never shied away from hard science, having the academic background and discipline to search for evidence and follow where it led, and to instigate research where none previously existed.

These qualities were coupled with a gift for expression – his passion for genuine sustainability and the built environment inspired audiences wherever he spoke, and it was the same self-belief which led him to set up Natural Building Technologies. They say if you’re one step ahead of the game you can make a lot of money, but Neil was a visionary and was several steps ahead  – the general public is still catching up. He also had a wonderful ability to cut through the noise and see the nub of an issue – and then to express it in flowing prose which remains a pleasure to read.
His thinking was based, ultimately, upon his faith. This is why Neil was never contradictory; he was consistent with everyone whom he encountered, and many of his colleagues were proud also to call him a friend. At the same time, some industry players were apparently scared of Neil, they recognised perhaps when they had been out-argued – and you cannot gainsay someone who speaks from the heart. He dared to assert that beauty matters – that when we build, or renovate, we should create and enhance beauty, as this uplifts and inspires us all, there is a spiritual aspect to building, and to craft work itself; ultimately he felt that people are what matter most – and this should be his most enduring legacy.
He was ever generous with his time, doing whatever he could to support those who were doing their best to contribute to the many fields in which he provided the leadership. While his dynamism and energy were legendary, his desire to help everyone imposed a burden on him, in so many cases he was simply the best person to answer he question posed, so in a sense he wore himself out.
Above all else he was a family man who, outside of his work, sought only to live a simple life, but as colleagues we shall all miss him greatly and we have lost a great man.
Nigel Griffiths

November 2018

Neil’s work continues to form the basis of much of the STBA work with much of the current STBA guidance developed by him. 

An essay, The Future of the Past, continues to inspire continued discussions on heritage and sustainability. 

“This essay has been written out of a desire among STBA member organisations, and particularly those of the Heritage sector, to be part of the sustainability discourse in a positive way, rather than being seen as part of the problem. Old buildings have a lot to offer to the sustainability of our country and planet both practically and culturally: practically, in term of how traditional buildings can contribute to mainstream sustainability targets in energy and carbon, as well as regards economic value and occupant health; and culturally in terms of how heritage thinking and practice, as well as the presence of old buildings, can (re-)connect people with nature, beauty and the past in a way which is essential for the long term survival and flourishing of humankind; they can also challenge our modern ways of thinking and being through their real enduring witness to different ways of life.”  Neil May

A summary is available to download.