Chapter 8

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Once home, it took me a few weeks before I was back to myself health-wise. Then I started thinking about rebuilding my business and making some money. I still had some properties, so I started doing them up and selling them. One thing I learned from my previous problems in the property market was always to ask myself before doing anything ‘what if’. If the answer was the potential of having serious problems, then I didn’t proceed. That is something I have continued throughout my life. 

During the subsequent years, I found myself getting into other businesses as well - curtain and soft furnishing manufacturing and retail, a hair and beauty salon, an entertainment agency, and a building consultancy. I should incidentally say that I was suitably qualified as I was a Chartered Builder, Chartered Surveyor, Chartered Building Engineer, Corporate Building Surveyor, and Chartered Manager by that time.

The military is good for enabling a person to gain educational qualifications, so while on Intrepid I had attended formal classes and although I didn’t get any formal qualifications it did give me something to do and kindled my interest in knowledge and education.

When I started my business, I needed to know how things were done, so I would read up on the type of work that I needed to do, then put the knowledge that I had acquired into practice. That served me well, as I had had experience in most of the trades through my work with Stuart, plus I had started the electrical apprenticeship before I joined the Marines. The only skill that I didn’t know about was plumbing, so when I saw an advert for a government training scheme for plumbers, I decided I would apply for that.

The scheme application involved an interview and some tests, and I got through those and was accepted so attended my local college to qualify as a plumber. It also involved obtaining a City & Guilds Craft Certificate in plumbing, which was to become my first formal qualification. I was surprised how easy I found it to get. I thought that it was going to be difficult, but the instructors led us through it a step at a time; something that I was to remember when I got into education and training in later life.

As I found the Craft Certificate so easy, I decided I would go back and do the Advance Certificate the following year. From then, I had been bitten by the education bug and continued my studies, returning for subsequent years to do National and Higher National Certificates in Building and then numerous related qualifications before applying to do a full-time Degree in Building.

I managed to get a grant to do my degree and, because of the qualifications I had, I was allowed entry directly to the second year. I was 36, the oldest student on the course, but that wasn’t a problem for me. I did find a couple of the subjects to be difficult, such as ‘Structural Analysis and Statistics’, as I had missed the first year, but one of the other students helped me through it. In turn, I was able to help him with a couple of the areas that he was struggling with, so it worked out perfectly for both of us.

The third year of the course was a year in industry, but since I had already worked in industry, I was given an exemption, which meant I was able to go directly into the fourth and final year. 

My graduation photograph

My introduction to teaching was through an old school friend who taught guitar at Lincoln Prison.  I mentioned that I fancied teaching and loved "Do It Yourself" (DIY). He said that they were always looking for new subjects and gave me the name of the education officer at the prison. I started to teach the prisoners one evening a week about how to look after their homes; they taught me how to break into them, break into cars, and crack safes! I hope that what I taught them was as useful as what they taught me, as one time I locked myself out of my car and was able to get back in without any problems. 

It always amused my wife if someone phoned me when I was teaching, and she could say that I was in prison, she did then explain. I learnt a lot about teaching and class control in prison, and getting on with students. Most weren’t there to learn, but to get out of their cell for an hour or so: It was there that I learnt to include humour and to make learning enjoyable, and about building a rapport with the class, for if you enjoy it your students will enjoy it also, something that I was to take with me when I moved into lecturing at college and university level. If you don’t do that people will just “switch off”, so, if you accepted that and were prepared to have a joke, they behaved themselves. I never had any problems and most importantly, I enjoyed the evenings, as did they. No matter how I felt when I went into the prison when I came out, I felt great.

During the final year of my degree, I talked to the deputy head of the department about lecturing. He said that, once I had completed my degree, that was something we could talk about. I completed my degree in June 1987 and started as a visiting lecturer in October of the same year.    

It was during this time that I became quite good friends with Andrew Charlett, who had supervised the dissertation for my degree and proofread my books. When I decided that I wanted to do a master’s degree, I asked him if he would supervise me again. My research degree was on ‘Aspects of Security in Dwellings’. In order to give it some credibility, I needed to work in conjunction with an organisation considered proficient in the area. At the time I was Chairman of the Lincoln Crime Prevention Panel and working closely with Lincolnshire Police, so I enlisted their support.

Having successfully completed my first Master’s, I moved on to another at the University of Hull, which required attendance just one day a week. It was a Master of Education and as I was involved in education, I thought it appropriate to obtain a qualification in the subject. I found that to be the easiest of all my qualifications as by that time I knew what was required and was well into the system of study and the production of academic work. I did then start looking around to see about doing a Doctorate, but Val, my wife, thought that I had done enough studying so I called it a day.

At that time, I was visiting Nottingham Trent University one day a week lecturing on Higher National and undergraduate courses for construction and surveying. It meant a long day. I travelled by train to enable me to work during the journey rather than waste the time driving.

I love lecturing, as I enjoy people, sharing my knowledge with them, and making learning enjoyable. Certainly, it was nice to build up a rapport with the group.  On one occasion when I went into my first session with a group that I had taught the previous year, they erupted into applause, which I found quite touching. 

I also found it very rewarding to see people develop and progress. On one occasion I was at Nottingham Trent University on my way to give a lecture when I met a guy who had been a student on the HNC course the previous year and who had completed the qualification.  I asked what he was doing there, and he informed me that he was now doing a degree as I had inspired him by telling him what I had done.

My speaking career developed thanks to Andrew, as he had been asked by a contact at Loughborough University if he knew anyone who could deliver their Project Evaluation and Development module for undergraduate and postgraduate students. He knew that I had done that in the real world and that I had also written a book entitled Successful Property Development, so he asked if I would be interested in doing that on a visiting lecturing basis. We arranged a meeting with their programme leader. I was offered the position, which I accepted on a yearly basis, and continued in it for four years.

I had gotten into writing books as I had difficulty finding suitable ones as recommended reading for the courses that I was teaching. The easiest way around that was to produce my own.

In addition to lecturing for universities, I had also been doing some speaking engagements at a number of colleges for Protocol, one of the foremost education recruitment and training companies.  They were looking for someone who was experienced in distance learning and who was computer literate to assess an online course for them.  As I had written numerous distance learning modules and had several qualifications in computing, I was engaged to do this work.   

The course that I was to assess was the Institute of IT Training Certificate in Online Tutoring. Once I had done the assessment, I met with the client to give a presentation on my findings. They had just bought the course with the intention of marketing it and wanted to know my views. After making the presentation, I was asked if I would be interested in working for the company full-time. My response was that if they made me an offer, I would consider it. I was invited to their head office in London to meet with the directors of the company. They had put together a package and offered me the position of On-line Manager.  It was a good package, and as I would be working from home, I accepted the position.

I worked for Protocol for two years and only left when they wanted me to work from their Barnsley office full-time. I had been going to the office in Barnsley several days a week, but it was a drive of an hour and a half each way, so I wasn’t prepared to do it every day of the week.

Around that time, I saw an advertisement for a lecturer in Construction at Lincoln College and so I applied. Having a degree in Building, being a Chartered Builder and Chartered Surveyor, and having lectured at college and university level on the subject, I thought I would have a good chance of getting the job. My confidence of success increased when I was called for an interview to find that the Head of School and the Programme Leader were both people I knew from my days of studying at Lincoln College. I was required to give a lecture to a group of students to see how I did. It went well and I was offered the job, which was lecturing in Building and Civil Engineering Studies to technicians and managers up to professional status. I started in 2002.

Within a year, the vacancy of Curriculum Leader became available, so I applied and was accepted. I was now responsible for the development of new programmes and courses for the School of Construction.

In 2007, Lincoln College underwent a reorganisation with the merger of two of the schools. The college required that I reapply for my position. My line manager Chris Bean and I had talked about setting up our own training company and this seemed the ideal time to do it. Chris had been at the college for many years and most of the people in senior positions in the local construction companies knew him and had been his students. Several of the companies were at the college not to have the college teach them but to have Chris. So, when he told them that he and I were thinking of setting up on our own, a couple said that they would come with us. When we made the final decision to form our own business, Chris’s PA, Helen, said she would like to join us as well.

Helen, Chris and me 

We set up Gates MacBain Associates Limited, an educational consultancy and training provider, to work within the construction industry for the provision and assessment of National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) for all levels of Construction Supervision and Management, the provision of Incorporated and Chartered Engineer mentoring through the Institute of Highway Engineers (IHE), and the delivery of Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB) and Management Courses. Due to Chris’s contacts, we were up and running from day one and we were soon involved in additional projects. My contacts were the universities and through them, we were engaged to establish, the National e-learning and resource website for Higher and Further Education Institutions. I was the technical expert author advisor and editor, as well as the writer of many of the modules.

In 2010, Gates MacBain Associates was invited to the National Training Awards. Chris, Helen, and I went along for the evening. I quite like such events as, apart from the social aspects, it enables us to network, and we got a lot of work from them. On this occasion, I was recognised in the Individual Award category of the National Training Awards for Outstanding Achievements in Training and Development for the benefits that my work had provided to others.

Receiving the National Training Award

Gates MacBain did very well and was one of the country’s foremost private construction training providers.  After a decade, Chris and I decided that it was time to retire. Bee, who worked for us, wanted to purchase the company. Chris and I agreed to continue on as associates and to assess assignments.  I continued to maintain the website, something that I had designed and set up originally. The good thing was that I could do this work from anywhere in the world as long as I had an internet connection. Chris and I sold Gates MacBain in November 2016.



Chapter 9 - Expanding my Horizons

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