Wishing Kevin a very happy retirement!

Senior Contract Surveyor Kevin Neill has just retired, and here he tells us about his 49 years long career with us:

I was 18 when I joined the company as a trainee. Vicky’s grandfather, Bernard Henman, was just about to retire, and Peter and Michael were at the helm.

Over the years, I have worked on some very interesting projects in some very interesting places: The Bank of England Printing Works in Essex (yes - they gave me security clearance); Wormwood Scrubs in London (I used to joke that I did 18 months in there- until I met someone who REALLY did time in the prison and thought I had too!), and Whipsnade Zoo as part of the team who built various animal enclosures, the function suite and associated restaurants.

When McDonalds first brought their restaurants to London and the South East, I was part of the construction team that made that happen, and I was on the team that brought a Mercedes dealership to the prestigious Marble Arch/Park Lane area of London.

One of the nicest projects I worked on, was the rebuilding of a church in Kent. Following a fire, which gutted the building, we were tasked with rebuilding the church. I came into contact with skilled craftspeople – stone masons, stained glass window artists and gilders to name a few. The church’s bells were badly damage in the fire and had to be recast at the Whitechapel Bell Foundry (famous for recasting Big Ben) and stonework damaged in the fire had to be re-carved and reinstated. The whole church community came together to complete this project and were very grateful for us to do the work – a very rewarding experience.

A more recent area of my career, that spanned almost six years, was my involvement in some legal work for the company on a few problematic contracts and included adjudications and mediations. These were often difficult tasks, and many were time consuming and worked to strict deadlines (I remember coming back off holiday from Majorca for a couple of days to attend a mediation in London, heading back out to resume my break afterwards), but it was an interesting experience. It was fascinating and at the same time daunting working with the lawyers (one of whom I still hear from, got wind of my retirement and wished me well last week) and it definitely pushed me out of my comfort zone. But I am very glad I did it and I can see why some people move into construction law further in their careers.

More recently, I have worked on the various Hat District projects – regenerating this historical hat manufacturers area of Luton has been very interesting. These highly detailed projects have been challenging at times, but the most recent, Hat Works, has been a nice project to finish my career on.

Each of these contracts brought something different to my job and the locations were often amazing. Not many people get to work in these types of places and I feel very privileged to have had the chance.

A 50 year career certainly means you see lots of change happen, but two of the most the recent events, changed a lot about the way we work: Brexit and the COVID19 pandemic. Brexit impacted our supply chain a fair bit. Lead times changed considerably, often lengthening them, and this was especially true for specialist items such as roof glazing (particularly for the Hat Works). Communication was key with the affected clients and on the whole, our completion dates haven’t been too affected. The pandemic however, was something none of us could have been prepared for. During the first lockdown, I was furloughed for 10 weeks. In that time I my youngest son and I did a weekly cycle around the capital- seeing the empty streets was fascinating. I also redecorated the external of my older son’s house which was also quite enjoyable in the sunshine. Once back at work, I began working from home – a different experience, but you make it work. The biggest challenges were with some of our subcontractors: some were snowed under with work and unavailable, while others had no work and couldn’t promise delivery due to their own staffing issues or reluctance to sign contracts. There was a lot of persuasion going on!

My experience has meant that I have had many trainee surveyors working alongside me over the years, and I have kept in touch with some of them. Some have gone on to do great things in their careers, and it’s been wonderful to know that I have helped others who started their careers in the same way I did. Tom Bullion has been my most recent trainee and I hope he has learnt something from me – I’ve certainly learnt things from him!

I have met some great people over the years, both in the company and from my time on site. There has been a lot of hard work and pressure, but I can look back and know I’ve had a real hoot! And next for me? Well, once we’re allowed to travel again, Sally and I are hoping to travel and including a visit to New Zealand, but in the meantime, I’ll get my paddle board out and get on the water. I’ll hopefully get down to Chichester to sail (my brother has a boat) and I’m hoping to teach my nearly four-year old grandson Oscar, to swim. I don’t think I’ll be bored!

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