- When did you start the Royal Parks Apprenticeship programme?
The programme started in September 2011. My employer was keen to get us in a month before college started, but unfortunately that was not possible, so we started with the contractors a week before college started.
- How did you hear about the scheme and what did you have to do to secure your space?
I heard about it through an email advertising the scheme that the Royal Parks sent through to my dad, Colin Stuart, who used to be Head of Service at Tower Hamlets. I thought it sounded like a great opportunity so I put in an application. After submitting the application, I was invited to an open day in June 2011 at Capel Manor College in Regents Park where The Royal Parks and the contractors’/employers were available to chat to on the day. We had a speech from lecturer Paul Dracott giving us details of what the course would entail, talks from the contractors about what they expect from the apprentices, the kind of work they will be taking part in and which of The Royal Parks the future apprentices would prefer to work in. I wanted to work at Greenwich Park and after an interview with Greenwich Parks’ assistant park manager and the Turfsoil contract manager (who are contracted to Greenwich Park) I was offered the position.
- Why did you decide to start a profession in the green sector?
I had done a few different things before and none of them had felt right. I went to college and studied media and then worked at a radio station for a while before moving to London and working for a financial information and data company. I knew it wasn’t what I really wanted to do and as I knew a lot of people who work in horticulture and my dad’s been in the sector for years, I decided to try and get into the sector. Once I had applied for the apprenticeship, I realised how vast the opportunities can be in this sector once you have gained the basic skills.
- How have you found the combination of class-room based learning and on-site learning? Do you feel the combination provides you with both the practical and theoretical skills you need to succeed in the green sector?
For me it works well. Learning the theory at college helps you understand why and what you are doing in practice. It’s great at the moment, as we are seeing what we have been taught in the classroom coming to life in the park. Plant knowledge learnt in the classroom allows me to maintain plants individually and care for them in the correct way which makes me more confident in my role. Even after just a year we have absorbed a lot of information and it is good to take that into the parks.
- What do you hope to do after the apprenticeship scheme?
I’m not sure yet! The apprenticeship runs for another two years and I think at the end of it I would quite like to take those skills and work abroad in either South Africa or Australia for a while and I feel taking part in The Royal Parks Apprenticeship scheme will increase my chances of getting work there. In the future I would like to work my way up to parks management or head of service within a local authority.
- Would you recommend a career in the green sector and what sort of opportunities do you feel it can offer to those starting out in their profession?
I would definitely recommend it and have really enjoyed it so far. You need to be tolerant of the cold, willing to get your hands dirty and open to the variety of different roles you can work in in this sector. There are loads of opportunities to specialise in a variety of horticultural specialisms, from landscape design, working on gardens at something like the Chelsea Flower Show, specialise in waters plants or Japanese style gardens and roles within local authorities – infrastructure, park rangers etc. I hadn’t realised how varied the options within this sector were until I started the course.
- And lastly what is your favourite park or green space?
I should probably say Greenwich Park as I have put a lot of work into it…! But I would have to say Victoria Park in Tower Hamlets. It has received a huge amount of investment recently, extremely well used and is a really great park.