Cheryl West: Assessing What Matters

This time last year, Cheryl West was, like most working mums, occupied with dividing her attentions between her work, family and friends. With three school-age daughters and a demanding job as CSG’s Technical Waste Assessor, at our Cadishead depot, she knew all about the difficulties of maintaining a suitable work-life balance – but something was to change her perspective so significantly, it led her to do things she never thought possible.

Seven years previously, she’d struck up a friendship with Angela Sharples, another of the mums at her daughter’s nursery and the two soon became best friends. Unfortunately, Angela was diagnosed with cancer but after treatment, seemed to have successfully fought it off. In September 2016, she found out that it had spread to her liver. In November, Angela died.

Jolted by such a sharp reminder of mortality, the effect on Cheryl was immediate. “Angela had been a runner, was adventurous and visited places like New York and Las Vegas. I felt I had to do something like that so I bought a bike that week. I had no idea what I was going to do but I needed to do something.”

Initially, the plan was to participate with her friend, Carolyn, in the London to Brighton ride (54 miles, done in one day) but when Carolyn suggested they opted instead for London to Paris (280 miles, done over four days), Cheryl agreed. “I didn’t really give the distance much thought – I just thought they were both a long way”.

By Christmas, their place on the ride was booked and from January, Cheryl started her training with Saturday rides. “I hadn’t ridden a bike for about ten years and had never ridden a road bike before. The first time out, I did about a hundred yards and just thought ‘No’. I had no idea about where to ride so I rode around a circuit in a housing estate again and again and did about four miles. I wasn’t particularly confident.”

Despite her perseverance, Cheryl knew she was doing things the hard way and joined Breeze, a ladies-only cycling group for beginners. “I was soon doing eight-mile rides, the group was helping me and my confidence was much higher.”

As the weeks wore on, Cheryl had raised her level to participating in 16-mile rides, was introduced to the Bury Clarion Cycling Club and invited on a 30-mile ride. By March, she’d participated in a ladies’ night ride around Bury in support of Bury Hospice – a distance of 60 miles – and booked herself on a training weekend, which involved 90 miles of riding. Clearly, the cycling bug had struck.

In early June, she completed the ‘Tour de Manc’, around 64 miles: “That was hard – the first 20 miles were flat, then came the hills…”, before the time came to take on the London to Paris ride, broken into four days between June 22nd and 25th: London to Dover (followed by a ferry crossing to Calais), Calais to Abbeville, Abbeville to Beauvais and Beauvais to Paris. “I didn’t know what to expect in France. There were hills but they didn’t seem the same – they seemed easier than at home. There was some great scenery, some pretty villages, especially Beauvais, and it was amazing to ride along the Seine. Wherever we went, there was lots of support.”

And then, of course, came Paris. Like the Tour de France, the ride was to hold its closing stages along the famous Champs-Élysées, a route which involves some particularly unfriendly cobbled areas. Unlike, ‘le Tour’, Cheryl’s finish involved negotiating the traffic – and the whims of Parisian drivers – around the Arc de Triomphe. If you’ve ever driven around that part of Paris, you may find that fact alone as impressive as the achievement of cycling almost 300 miles in four days!

Having completed her mission, Cheryl is well on the way to raising £2,500 for Bolton Hospice, in memory of Angela – with CSG pleased to contribute £500 towards her target. Seemingly, she’s undergone a lifestyle transformation to achieve her goal and honour her friend. Does this mean she’ll be back to do it all again next year?

“No. The thing I learnt most from Angela is to do different things, find new experiences. When I spoke to older riders, it struck me how many stories they had to tell, how varied their experiences were. Carolyn and I only have this experience so we decided that if we do something different every year, in a few years’ time, we’ll have that level of experience. We may do another ride – we’ve looked at one in Italy but I’m not sure about all the hills! One thing we are going to do next year is kayaking in the fjords of Norway. I’ll still have my beach holidays but I’ve decided that we need to do different things as well.”

Before all that, Cheryl will be back in the saddle to do a 100-mile ride around the North West of England in September, another challenge that requires a level of training – with an unforeseen bonus: “My middle daughter, who’s a good swimmer, has become interested in cycling. If she wants to start riding, I’ll certainly be glad of another training partner!”

It’s no exaggeration to use the phrase ‘life-changing’ to describe Cheryl’s experiences of the past year. Through tragedy, she’s gained a new perspective, raised thousands for charity and given inspiration from a friend’s memory. “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans” sang John Lennon in ‘Beautiful Boy’, his ode to his son, Sean. In her efforts to commemorate Angela’s example, Cheryl has broken the cycle of work and home and, through her efforts, reminded us that we all need to make time to live. C’est la vie…

 

The Hart Of Waste

The great and the good of CSG gathered in a Hampshire hotel recently to celebrate another landmark occasion in the company’s long and illustrious history.

The cause for celebration was the launch of CSG’s second book, ‘The Hart of Waste’, an updated history of the company founded by Edgar ‘Bunny’ Hart in 1934. As with the previous book on CSG, ‘Waste Matters’, published in 2002, the new book was written by Nigel Watson, an accomplished writer and corporate historian.

The guests gathered at the Solent Hotel, close to CSG’s Fareham head office at the end of the day.  The fact that our AGM had been held that afternoon meant that many important stakeholders could be present.  One such luminary was CSG’s former Managing Director, Ken Pee, who’d flown in from his home in Cyprus for the occasion.

After a convivial drinks reception, we were invited into the function room and entered a room dressed with CSG branding, a projector and screen and, of course, a table groaning under the weight of numerous copies of the new book.  Many guests filtered into the theatre seating area while others chose to stand towards the back of the room while they waited for proceedings to start.

First to speak was Heather Hart, CSG’s Chair and Bunny’s daughter, who welcomed the assembled throng and explained how it was that this second book came to be commissioned – a conversation over a glass of wine, on holiday with her sister, Hilary.

In historical terms, it may seem that fifteen years is a barely significant interlude but such is the pace of change in all areas of life, a mere decade and a half seems like half a lifetime away, particularly in some aspects of life. For example, a quick Google search uncovers an article in which 2002 was predicted to be “the year of Broadband Britain” – which means most people were still accessing the internet by dial-up modems. In fact, Google itself was only four years old, back then and as likely to be the search engine of choice for most people as Yahoo, Excite or Alta Vista – remember them? Facebook didn’t even exist (Mark Zuckerburg enrolled at Harvard in 2002 on his way to creating thefacebook, as it was once known) so social networking and social media were little more than concepts. It really was a very different world.

In the world of waste, the pace of change has been just as bewildering. A veritable slew of legislation in the last fifteen years has led to innumerable disposal practices that were commonplace in 2002 becoming outlawed – each requiring a more professional, more regulated technique of treatment. It may be ‘only fifteen years’ but in truth, it’s easily enough to warrant an entire re-telling of the official story of CSG.

Having given some insight into the creation of the book and with all the right people thanked for their participation and assistance, Heather passed the microphone to Neil Richards, CSG’s ebullient Managing Director. Neil paid particular tribute to the unique way that CSG is run, a reliance on self-sufficiency and a faith in old-fashioned values that encourages a sense of belonging and shared purpose amongst all who join the business.

Neil referred to the very distinct culture at CSG, a careful mix of the familiarity of family businesses with the professionalism of large corporations. It’s certainly no accident that the new book carefully inter-weaves pages of every element of the current CSG team all the way along the company’s timeline of events throughout its 170-odd pages and it perfectly reflects Neil’s words.

The evening was rounded off by a sneak preview of CSG’s new company video (more on that, later this year) before the books on display were given to each of those present. Many even took the opportunity to ask Heather to sign their copy – which she was delighted to do.

As the conversations carried on around the room and into the night, there was a clear sense that the launch of a book charting a company’s history was, far from being merely a documentary of the past, more a starting point to the next chapter in the remarkable story of success that all started with one man’s dream.

Putting a Good Spin on Wastewater

Centrifugal force is one of the more entertaining laws of physics. Many of us have swung a bucket of water around our heads (hopefully, without spilling any) in an attempt to impress small children – indeed you may even remember it being demonstrated to you when you were young. Later on, you may have been amazed to watch the ‘wall of death’ motorcycle stunt in which a rider emerges unscathed after riding a motorbike around the vertical wall of a circular pit.

For die-hard devotees, there’s even a fairground ride, the fearsome ‘Hearts & Diamonds’, where brave souls stand unharnessed in a giant circular cage, to be whizzed around such that the entire cage can be rotated to almost 90 degrees. The sight of 50 or so screaming people seemingly stuck to the walls of an oversized washing machine drum is something that tends to live long in the memory, acting as a firm inspiration either to ‘definitely’ or ‘never’ try it for yourself. Either way, most people would agree that watching it is more fun than your average physics lesson.

When it’s not thrilling funfair riders on a Saturday night, centrifugal force has a day job – and it’s one that we really couldn’t do without: separating solid matter from water. Many industries use large quantities of water to carry out a number of processes, whether it’s washing potatoes or to apply a glossy coating to some types of paper. Having completed its process, the watery substance can’t simply be flushed away. It needs to have the solids removed – which has the secondary benefit that the water is left in a re-usable state.

How do you reliably remove potato earth or kaolin paper gloss (or a multitude of other substances) once it’s been mixed with water? You’ve guessed it – a centrifuge, albeit quite a specific type, much more sophisticated than the ‘washing machine drum’ you might initially imagine.

With such a significant demand and in so many places, it’s no surprise that there’s a need for a fleet of the things, with different capabilities and all able to visit your site in order to do their thing. In recent years, CSG have developed their oil-based expertise and have become a leading exponent of cleansing and clarifying fluids in the water-based world.

CSG’s selection of mobile centrifuges are available for hire, lease or even purchase. They can take upto 98% of the solid matter out of its watery suspension, which as a minimum, leads to its more efficient disposal or, in some cases, enables the only way to dispose legally.

With throughput rates of 20,000 litres up to 60,000 litres per hour achievable with some machines, they can guzzle through some serious quantities of sludge – and very often, they need to, as some customers require entire lagoons to be cleaned. Lagoon-clearance is a significant undertaking that may even require a roving dredger or a floating pontoon to literally suck the matter from the lagoon floor and pump it to the centrifuge at the waterside to separate it from the water.

With so many different kinds of application, surely there are limits to the types of location that such sensitive machinery can be taken to. Not so, says Pete Smith, CSG’s Technical Sales expert:

“Many of our most remote locations are at drinking water treatment sites, which can only be reached down quite winding lanes. Our biggest machines are transported on 30-foot trailers so if the lanes are too narrow or if there isn’t room to turn the vehicle around, we can send smaller systems, which will fit in the back of a van.”

The equipment is designed well enough that it can be operated with minimal training, although an experienced CSG operator is an optional extra to whoever wishes to hire it. Pete is keen to point out that ‘cleaning’ water does not make it potable, suitable for drinking, merely clean enough to be regarded as re-usable or fit for discharge.

Whatever the type of customer, their application and whatever the specific type of solid matter, CSG seem to have a centrifuge and a method for the job. While techniques can change significantly if the matter is coarser (grains of sand or grit) or finer (dissolved powders), the primary principle is always the power of separation afforded by centrifugal force, perhaps also the most environmentally-friendly law of physics.

To find out more about our centrifuge systems and industrial cleaning services,
contact us today or call 0800 011 6600.

Action at ‘The Bourne Community’

CSG were recently pleased to present the River Bourne Community Farm in Salisbury, Wiltshire with a funding boost of £20,000.

The contribution was made via the Landfill Communities Fund, an innovative scheme, which incentivises operators of landfill sites to work closely with and provide financial assistance to environmental projects in nearby areas.

Established in 2010, the River Bourne Community Farm is 63 acres of land adjoining the River Bourne and has developed into a sustainable working farm, supported by staff and by volunteers. It is a ‘Community Interest Company’ designed specifically to operate for the benefit of the community rather than shareholders.

It provides a resource for local education, as both a venue for school visits and also as a place of learning for BTEC students. Describing itself as “a 1960s working farm”, it places particular emphasis on its sustainability and ecologically sound practices – which were central to farming at that time, before the era of agricultural intensification.

The money will be put towards the cost of the farm’s new purpose-built café. It’s expected that a warmer, more comfortable place to offer refreshments (made with good, wholesome ingredients, of course) will not only increase revenues but also improve visitors’ experience, resulting in more visits!

Currently, the farm’s café operates from a portacabin. As you would expect, the new building will have impeccable environmental credentials. It will be an insulated timber-frame cabin, designed to fit in with its surroundings, offering accessibility to all its visitors. Work started in the spring and it’s expected that the new café will be opened in the autumn.

River Bourne’s Farm Office Manger Jane Wilkinson explained further:

“We are so excited about the prospect of a purpose-built community café. Our families and other visitors are really looking forward to a bit of warmth and comfort! The cafe will play an important part in farm operations and will contribute to the future sustainability of the farm.”

CSG are proud to be associated with this wonderful project and wish the River Bourne Community Farm every success! If you’re ever in the Salisbury area, we recommend you pay them a visit!

Sweetness and Weight

If you’ve ever visited CSG’s Cadishead depot, you will probably have met Phil Jones. Phil is stationed in the weighbridge at the entrance to the site and administers all the visitor passes to our admin team there, as well as ensuring all the lorry traffic is checked in and out correctly. Unfailingly courteous, he’s also rather popular with those in the know – and for a very good reason.

Over the last eleven years, Phil has added to his gate-keeping duties the role of tuck shop operator, with all proceeds being given to charity. Since then, his services to hungry drivers have raised around £3,000 for various charities including the British Heart Foundation!

Phil was inspired to get involved by a friend at a nearby modelling fair (that’s models of vehicles and trains, not the form of modelling that immediately springs to mind) who ran a tuck shop from his stand there for a children’s heart charity. A former colleague suggested they do the same thing at work and the idea stuck. Eleven years later, numerous certificates and messages of gratitude from the BHF adorn his wall. His certificate for raising £650 in 2016 has just arrived.

As we talk, a truck stops and an order is placed: “Kit-Kat, Double Decker, please” and he disappears to the adjoining office to collect the order. You can imagine many drivers will be thinking of Phil’s confectionery offering whenever they find their day involves a drive to CSG Cadishead – and who can blame them?

If you’re ever due to pay us a visit at our Cadishead site, don’t forget to see what Phil has to offer. Your dentist may not thank you but Phil and the British Heart Foundation certainly will!

 

CSG Worcester: A Source of Innovation

CSG has completed a project to develop one of the most advanced sewage treatment facilities within the private sector. The facility, in Worcestershire, became fully operational in March this year.

“It took over a year to build, partly due to the fact that we spent so much time on the research and development of the processes we wanted to use”, said Chris Febrey, CSG’s Group Sewage Manager. “It allows us to process the sewage in an almost fully automatic way. It’s 95% labour-free, which is more efficient than anything I’ve seen operated by a privately-owned company.”

The ability to remove and process sewage without the need to sub-contract to other treatment works allows not just a greater capacity but also more flexibility. The innovations in the process also make the process even more efficient. Together, these advantages allow CSG to handle the significant levels of sewage waste quickly and cheaply, even in the busier summer months. This all means we’re now much better positioned to handle the significant levels of waste from private septic tanks – as well as concerts and other events with large crowds.

Furthermore, the addition of a new tanker to service the Worcestershire area by Oil Monster, one of CSG’s well known brands has added extra capacity to service our customers. In its first month, the Worcester Oil Monster munched its way through 80,000 litres of waste oil, which alone has chalked off a couple of tonnes per day from the target. The oil collected this way is converted into a fuel, which is usable by power stations and lime kilns.

The ambition to pursue this project – and the achievement of its completion in Worcestershire is just another example of CSG’s proactive approach to growth in recent years – and remain at the very leading edge of the waste industry.

In A Positive Place

The concept of apprenticeship seems to be a strangely controversial one. We often hear how, in “the good old days”, being an apprentice was admired as the only way to enter a trade and how it combined on-the-job learning with real-life values of respect and professional conduct – something worth preserving, you’d think.

And yet a quick Google news search on the subject throws up a myriad of pages that are anywhere between lukewarm and critical of the Government’s latest initiative, the Apprenticeship Levy, with fears of flawed planning, spiralling costs, even job losses all being cited. It all seems as if the merits of apprenticeship are in danger of being forgotten amongst all the doom-mongering, hidden-agenda crossfire.

Daniel Fairhurst is a real-world reminder of what this is all about. At 19, he’d already started to gain experience of electrical work, with seven months with a council housing company in Salford, working on refurbishments. As with many a 19 year-old, thrust into a shop-floor environment, he describes his younger self as quiet and shy. Aside from learning the ropes from older, more experienced colleagues, he quickly understood that the less technical aspects of the job were just as important: “the tenants were still living in the houses while I was working on them – which made things interesting from time to time. One time, there was a guy hiding in his mum’s loft, on the run from the Police!”

After accidentally landing a job at CSG (he’d handed in his CV to a lady at a nearby company who’d happened to pass it to her husband, working at Cadishead), Dan was enrolled on three-year apprenticeship programme, which incorporated City & Guilds and NVQ qualifications with Salford College.

Earlier this year, Dan, now 22, completed the programme and gained his Level 2 & 3 qualifications. Three years into his career with CSG, he’s come a long way from the quiet lad who joined the company.

“I’m definitely more confident when I’m in work. Obviously, I’m more confident about the stuff I’m qualified in but I also trust my common sense a lot more and I feel more able to show the real side of my personality. Usually, when there’s an issue with any machinery on site, it’s down to us in the Electrical team to diagnose it. If it’s a purely electrical situation, we’ll deal with it. Sometimes, there might also be a mechanical aspect, which I’ll pass on to the Engineering team but I’ll let them know what I think it is and what I think they should do. We like to keep Engineering on their toes – and we know they’ll give it us back if they get a chance. There’s a lot of black humour involved but it’s a positive part of the job and it keeps you sharp. There’s a kudos to being able to say ‘I spotted this’ – and I like being right! I’m very competitive: a poor loser and an even worse winner.”

In many ways, this is a part of apprenticeship that’s just as important as gaining the formal knowledge and experience required to do the job. While it can easily be dismissed as unproductive ‘banter’, the dynamics of working closely with other people, other departments and other companies, each with their differing rules of engagement, encourage a set of soft skills that are often just as useful as those that require a qualification. Words like ‘rapport’ and ‘negotiation’ can often seem like old-fashioned notions from a time when tasks weren’t so process-driven and people were often expected to ‘wing it’ to get the job done.

Today, we’re often conditioned to view any departure from process as a failure – and in lots of cases they are – but that’s not to say that the older values are out-dated. In fact, the opposite is probably true: if it’s true that fewer people today rely on softer skills such as empathy, humour and building rapport, those who can utilise them will stand out more prominently.

Every time Dan is called to a job at Cadishead, whether it’s a £150,000 metal recycling baler or a malfunctioning kettle, he’s not just assessing the electrical considerations (although that’s obviously the most basic requirement), he’s also balancing the priority of the job to the company, compared to the rest of that day’s workload, he’s working within set operational parameters, particularly those of Health & Safety and he’s trying to meet the immediate needs of the person or people most closely affected.

In short, he has the capacity to be everyone’s friend – even though circumstances can often dictate that he has to disappoint someone. I made a point of asking how much of all of that was covered in his coursework. “There’s always a Health & Safety aspect to any of the work we do so I’d say we covered that but the rest of it is just up to me to use my common sense”

Far from merely being ‘common sense’ the world of work is now beginning to value soft skills and encourage their development. Like the very concept of apprenticeship, where values were passed down for centuries before the idea seemed to fall out of favour and then, with recent initiatives, began to experience a renaissance, even common sense itself has become recognised as not being common enough, in need of passing on, in all its various forms. The wheel has turned full circle, it seems.

In fact, for Dan, it keeps turning. With one programme completed, he’s about to embark on the next one, an Apprenticeship Levy-funded HNC in Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Trafford College. It’s a sign of his growing development and importance to CSG but it’s also an opportunity for which he’s “particularly grateful”.

Away from work, Dan keeps up his competitive streak at the gym. But when time allows, he’s a keen attendee of various festivals around the country and expects one day to make his way round Europe to some of the biggest festivals in the world. He’s made a habit in recent years of spending St. Patrick’s Day in Dublin, which sounds like a mission not for the faint-hearted! He’d also like to set his sights further at some stage, with Australia on his bucket list of destinations.

In the meantime, he’s working on his next target, which is to live “for at least a couple of years” right in the centre of Manchester – just as soon as his student mates graduate and start earning money! I put it to him that it sounds like something similar to the setting of ‘Friends’ – and if so, which character would that make him? We’d already discussed a love of food so the instant answer came as no surprise – “Joey!”

Dan is a perfect example of the benefits of apprenticeship – to employer and employee alike. His growing skill set, encouraged by further learning and day-to-day experience in a nurturing environment are just what CSG and, by extension, any company, should hope to gain from the principle. It’s also encouraging to think that across the country, the Apprenticeship Levy is encouraging the next wave of skilled workers, just like Dan and definitely not, as the song says, “stuck in second gear”.

Click Here For More Understanding

We were pleased to welcome a new member of the team to our Cadishead office, last month. Daryl Tunningley joins us as a Marketing Executive, giving particular focus to our online activities.

Daryl, 26, hails from York and grew up around one of Britain’s most picturesque cities, although he jokes that the downside to all that historic splendour is that “you spend a lot of time dodging the tourists!”

He began his career curating website content at Persimmon, the house builder, at their Leeds office. Before long, he’d developed the role to such a degree that he became their Marketing Co-ordinator. “I just developed an aptitude for marketing, combining my writing skills with an appreciation for good design but above all, applying common sense and logical thinking to make improvements based on what the analysis was telling me.”

Marketing is a field which has attracted some strong stereotypes over the years, with many still believing it to be the domain of brash, risk-taking ‘Mad Men’ types, too often full of their own self-importance. In fact, in most companies, day-to-day marketing has undergone something of a quiet revolution over the last decade. Since the arrival of the Internet, search engines and, more particularly, social media, it’s now a department awash with very detailed performance data, measuring every click and every view of every piece of content available. Someone has to sift through this tidal wave of information and turn it all into knowledge, which in turn informs the strategy.

You sense this is a role perfectly suited to Daryl. He speaks precisely and unhurriedly, favouring clarity over brevity, suggesting a level of thoroughness that the marketing dinosaurs of the past would find irksome. “I like the fact that my role gives me an end-to-end view of the whole business. This gives me a better chance to understand every part of the process and ensure I can support each one in the best way possible.”

Daryl’s capability for self-teaching is not restricted to his working life: he plays his Fender Jaguar electric guitar “when I can”; his musical ability another product of his auto-didacticism. He also reads widely, with particular interest in Science Fiction and History, “mostly European and any period from Medieval to Modern. I find it fascinating to see how – and why – it is that we are where we are at this point in time.”

Perhaps most surprisingly, Daryl’s embrace of the world of social media comes to an end when it’s time to go home. “I don’t engage in social media at all in a personal capacity”, he tells me, which at first seems an odd paradox but on explanation, becomes perfectly logical. “I remember hearing once that ‘chefs never cook’ and that explains how I feel about it. Social media is a powerful tool but I view it as a means to lead people to the content on our site. The analytical aspect of it all is the most interesting feature for me.”

His next big project is to co-ordinate the design and build of the new CSG website, in production later this year. Needless to say, the ability of the site to provide as much meaningful data as possible will be at the top of his wish-list.

In the meantime, he’s still in the process of increasing CSG’s reporting capability and analytics. If you happen to be the first person who’s taken the time to read as far as this, the last sentence of this blogpost, he’ll probably know all about it.

Confined Spaces, 25 Places

Earlier this year, 25 of our team underwent training to enable them to work safely and correctly in confined spaces.

Confined Spaces Regulations have been in force since 1997 and are designed to protect workers from the risks associated with working in areas defined as ‘substantially enclosed’, such as a lack of oxygen, amongst a host of other dangers.

The course covered the potential hazards of working in confined spaces, explored the precautionary measures that are available and looked at how those factors combined to inform risk assessment. It also included modules on gas detection and the use of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and escape apparatus.

Finally, there was a chance to put the theory into practice with a practical exercise, in which the trainees had to physically enter and get out of a confined space before a selection of multiple-choice questions at the end of the day.

“The training was necessary to ensure that we reinforce a safe system of working in such a potentially hazardous area, while of course continuing to meet our obligations to our employees and the law.  With all that in mind, we considered the day to have been a tremendous success” said Sarah Taylor, Compliance Manager at CSG’s Manchester operational facility.

This was one of a number of training initiatives undertaken by CSG this year, demonstrating our commitment to continually raise our standards by investing in our fantastic team.

Going With The Flow

Brett Ashton is a difficult man to pin down. I called his mobile one morning to discuss this article, only to be met with the reply “Sorry, I’ll have to do this another time – I’m in a nuclear power station”.  As conversation-stoppers go, it’s a pretty good one so we rescheduled at a later date.

Of course the reason Brett can be so elusive is that he’s simply just so busy. As Engineering Supervisor for CSG, he brings an extensive knowledge of pumps and pumping – an ideal specialism as moving liquids is a mainstay of our services. He alternates his time, seemingly daily, between our Head Office in Fareham and any of a number of sites that he oversees.

Service and Maintenance team based at our Head Office in Fareham. Brett Ashton far left.

“I’m really a troubleshooter”, he explains to me, when we find a more appropriate time to speak.  “I carry out the surveys, examine the data, provide the quotes and source the parts.  I do still get my hands dirty but I’m really here to pass on my knowledge when it’s required.”

Aged 32, he started his career in the Royal Navy, not uncommonly for a son of Portsmouth, and served for two years as an Engineer, mostly aboard HMS Manchester.  Thereafter, he worked in London, maintaining pumps for a variety of clients: “hotels, department stores, fast-food restaurants; mostly heating systems but all pretty similar pumping requirements”.

For the last four years, he’s applied his specialist knowledge here at CSG. He patiently explains the rudiments of pumping: “you’re either looking to get the right level of flow (in litres per minute) or the right distance, which is represented as a curve on a graph.  The complicated bit is when you need to move the curve with the current you have”.

Slowly, it dawns that ‘current’ and ‘flow’ are not interchangeable terms.  ‘Flow’ refers to the liquid motion but the ‘current’ is of the electrical variety, the means of powering the whole operation. Brett casually confirms the realisation “I’m actually a trained plumber and a qualified electrician, which is funny really because usually, they don’t get on!”

Confident and yet self-effacing, he certainly doesn’t give the impression of a person given to internal struggle but his point is well observed – anyone who’s worked on a building site will know the two trades can be capable of mixing about as harmoniously as… well, electricity and water.

It’s certainly not a job for people who don’t like exams.  Brett has had to undertake confined space training, is a qualified slinger and banksman and is UKPIA-accrediated to work on a forecourt.  He’s recently added to this roster by taking a Level 2 & 3 City & Guilds qualification to bolster his electrician’s credentials.  “It involved two years of travelling to London for weekends and a lot of A-level maths!”

Perhaps the most enviable aspect of Brett’s work is the wide variety of places it takes him to.  Aside from his regular presence at that nuclear power station he’s responsible for operations at schools, Forestry Commission sites, RAF barracks and even TV and Film Studios. As it’s a working studios, you have to check your mobile phone in at the front desk because there’s a strict ‘no photography’ policy – so there’s no chance of a selfie with any of the film stars you might come across!”

Occasional brushes with celebrity are nice enough but they pale in comparison to ensuring a job is well done.  Brett explains how smarter technology is helping him to do exactly that.  “Many of our pump stations now have a smart element to them.  This means that not only do they monitor the levels and spot a fault, they can diagnose the problem and email the client and the team here at CSG.  Now, we often don’t need to send out an engineer to look at what’s going on, which is more efficient all round and saves the client money.”

Unsurprisingly, for someone so busy, Brett remains just as active outside of work.  A black belt at karate at the age of 13, he also boxed for the Navy at Lightweight (60Kg). Running and weight-training burn off whatever excess energy remains at the end of the day.

Perhaps the most surprising part of our discussion comes when he declares he’s a big fan of rugby league, in particular the Leeds Rhinos.  Portsmouth is a long way from the sport’s M62-corridor heartland and over 250 miles from Leeds so why the affiliation?  “My Dad used to play for Leeds – when they were just called Leeds – so that’s the main reason but I’d still far rather watch a game of rugby league over union and I try to get up to Headingley to watch a game, when I can.”

What does the future hold for this rugby-league-supporting ex-serviceman of many talents?  “I’ve always preferred to see money as a means to travel rather than just owning stuff and I would like to see more of the world but with a young daughter at the moment, we can’t be too ambitious”.  It’s clear that, sooner or later, this elusive engineer is hoping to be even harder to pin down – for a few weeks of the year, at least!