Described as a 'true linchpin' on our plant side of the business for almost 50 years, Harry Dawkins, a mobile plant fitter for Select, is finally hanging up his PPE.
Right up until his retirement earlier this month Harry was still routinely being called upon to help out on hoists and maintenance, his primary role being based around breakdown response in recent years.
Starting in the business on 2 September 1969, Neil Armstrong had taken one small step for mankind just seven weeks earlier, The Beatles were still together (making their last public performance on the roof of Apple Records), and the Boeing 747 jumbo jet was making its debut.
So what's made Harry so durable over all those years?
“I always wanted to work with my hands, as I was very interested in mechanical and electrical work. Being a service engineer, you’re often not based in any one location for long, and over the years it’s the camaraderie that’s been one of the best things about my job, and it’s that I’m really going to miss. You always find yourself going to a job with a particular problem that needs solving, so when you repair it and it gets going it’s just great job satisfaction to help all of the on-site teams. I’ve also always liked the variety in my job.”
What things really stick in the mind from your career?
“I vividly remember starting off as an apprentice and being taken round to a number of jobs, such as the Western Avenue where the A40 was being built and the Barbican in London. I was shown the various pieces of machinery I could potentially be using in the future and to be honest I was blown away. I never thought I could be working on tower cranes and bulldozers, so it’s something I’ve felt very proud of over the years.”
Harry reflects on some of the challenges also, adding: “I was working on tower cranes at one point – which could mean being in London one day, then Manchester the next, before going on to Scotland for 3 weeks. On one job we took a crane down in one location and put it back up in Manchester, which required dedication and the need to work in all conditions, sometimes in very cold temperatures, but when we completed it always felt worthwhile.”
And how has the construction industry changed in that time?
“One thing that has changed is that when I started, lorries would turn up full of bricks and concrete and it would all have to be unloaded by hand because there wasn’t the kind of plant and machinery we have now. You’d need a lot of labour to create a human chain. The next development was when pallets came in and I was also around to see how that evolved further as the first batch of forklifts arrived on sites. I went from site to site to repair the initial forklift machinery before the manufacturing became more sophisticated. These days there’s no question that you have a lot less labour on the ground and it’s definitely changed the industry for the better, as you can unload a lorry safely in minutes.”
As Darren Twelvetree, Senior Plant Manager for Select Plant Hire explains, "Harry is still fit and well and can still complete the job for any breakdowns in the hoist fleet, and all the project managers and logistics managers know him on first name terms. When you consider that he's worked on every UK based Laing O'Rourke project that's required hoists, and on every type of job - from Heathrow Terminal 5, Hyde Park, Leadenall and the Francis Crick institute, Westgate Oxford, the Shell building, Southwark 251 and Imperial West for Imperial College London - it's safe to say that without his support none of these projects or hoists would have run well."
Darren adds: "On my first job I was supporting Harry on a hoist install, and I can say on behalf of all the team that we are going to miss Harry as he will be hard to replace."
So what does the future hold now?
“I’ve been missing out on my grandkids, so I’ll be spending more time with my family and getting more involved. I also like my music, everything from classical to reggae and jazz-funk. I’ve always had a positive attitude to retirement, the thing that was always in my mind was that I didn’t want work to retire me. I also never wanted to say ‘I wish’. I'm planning on buying a motor home and travelling around the UK, and also hopefully the continent, with my wife. She says we’re going to do it together and really make the most of life now, whatever we do. Before all that though I'm going to have a get together with some of the teams past and present I've worked with to say goodbye. I’ve never worked for another company, so I will certainly miss all of my colleagues.”
Our congratulations, and hats off to Harry, as we wish him well for the future.