Congratulations on receiving your award. How did you first hear about it?
I received a letter saying that I had been nominated for a British Empire medal and that my name would be forwarded to HM The Queen for an award in the New Year’s Honours List. I was then sworn to secrecy for six weeks. The only person I told was my wife. The ceremony was at Buckingham Palace in May, and as I retired at the end of March, it was a wonderful note to end on.
Why did you first move to the University?
It was a good career move, although it wasn’t easy at the time. I had been a trainee technician at the University of Oxford for 11 years, and was happy there. I had friends and family living locally, played in local sports teams and had just bought a house. But I moved to become a general technician running the cryogenic helium and nitrogen liquefiers and supporting the research team. After five years, in 1982, I was promoted to become department superintendent.
What is a facilities manager?
I was responsible for the management of the 17 technical staff within Physics and Astronomy, covering the mechanical workshop, electronics workshop, teaching labs, stores, and cleanroom. I ensured that we supported the teaching and research needs of the staff and the maintenance of equipment within those areas. I dealt with estates on building works and general maintenance of equipment including air conditioning, cooling water, electricity supplies. I was also involved with space facilities within department, ensuring that we can accommodate everyone. And I was the safety officer.
You have worked at the University for over 35 years. What makes it such a special place?
The link between support and academic staff has been one of the great successes of the department. It is one big unit – there is no “us and them.”
The retention of technical staff is probably better than anywhere else on campus and that is down to the camaraderie, good skills, and friendliness of the department. I have also been fortunate in that the various heads of school I have worked with have been very good and very supportive. I wouldn’t have changed my career for all the tea in China.
How has the department changed?
We can do far more now than when I first came. Just look at 3D modelling and computer-aided design. Before it was all drawings on paper. Our laser physics department is another big change. Laser physics is now one of the big groups within the University, and that is all down to the foresight of the department 30 years ago.
There is much greater emphasis on sustainability now. In line with the University’s platinum award for sustainability, we are very aware of things like electricity usage, which is a vast part of our budget. We have reduced our bill from £126k to £40k per annum, largely through a campaign of awareness.
Is the department in good health?
There was a point 10-12 years ago, when undergraduate numbers were really quite low, which was a cause for some concern. So the technical and academic staff got together to work out how we could get more people to study physics. We changed our visit days to Saturday, to encourage more parents to attend. We revamped our Open Days to include live experiments, and created the Laser Light Express Roadshow, which shows that physics can be fun, rather than the perception of it as a hard and dull subject. As a result, we have now hit our target of 150 students.
Things like The Southampton Theory Astrophysics and Gravity (STAG) Research Centre, have also helped raise the profile of physics. Hundreds of people came recently to hear Professor Gerard ‘t Hooft talking about the Higgs particle at The Turner Sims.
What are you most proud of?
The quality of the technical staff I leave behind. I hired them all and have watched them all progress. The quality and skill level we have is really good, and the department is very well set with its technical support for quite a number of years.
What are your plans post-retirement?
I sit on various football committees and intend to carry on with that. I hope to watch more cricket and learn to play golf properly instead of hacking around the course. There will be some travel and some DIY – my wife has a list ready! I shall miss coming in intensely, but I will be back to visit. It’s such a friendly place and there are always all sorts of things going on.