Alumnus of the Month: June 2023
Nick Phillips is our Verulam School Alumnus of the Month. Nick Phillips left Verulam School in 1991 and is now Head of the Technology faculty at Verulam school.
Please tell us a little about yourself – where do you work and how did you get into this role?
My route into teaching was not obvious at first, as I left university wanting to become a cabinetmaker. I was lucky to find work at a London based workshop near Kew Gardens called Steve Hallam Furniture, making corporate and domestic furniture for the top-end market. At the turn of the 2000 I moved to Home Counties workshop in Kimpton. It was at this juncture that I started to reflect on where my career was going within the furniture industry. Without the opportunity to own my own workshop or produce my own commissioned work, I made the decision to move into teaching in order to pass on the skills I had been taught. As part of the process of applying for teaching courses, I had to spend time in school contexts and so, in 2000, I came back to Verulam for one week’ observation and it was during this time I was asked to undertake a GTTP programme and teach in the Technology faculty at Verulam. With the exception of two years, when I was at Queen Elizabeth’s Boys Grammar School in Barnet, I have spent the rest of my teaching career back at Verulam.
What are some of your proudest achievements since leaving Verulam School?
I think it is fair to say that I love working with wood and some of my proudest achievements have been the select commissions I have been privileged to work on. Whilst at Steve Hallam’s, we collaborated with Rod and Alison Wales (of Wales and Wales – http://www.walesandwales.com) to produce a huge boardroom table in quartered English oak and bog oak for the Co-Op bank. Rod and Alison are very highly respected designers and makers in the furniture industry. Steve, my boss, was tutored by Martin Grierson and worked under David Field, another notable furniture designer who taught at the Royal College of Art. We frequently produced commissions for David and undertook commissions for Ron Carter RDI. This is where I learnt my attention to detail and problem-solving skills. Most importantly for me was working with wood. It gets under your skin and draws you in like a moth to a light and this is why I still enjoy practising my skills and, even now, undertake the odd commission when time is available.
Being in education has been equally rewarding. There is great joy in seeing pupils pick up the skills I love and develop a passion for the subject. For example, seeing a tentative Y11 student at the start of his practical coursework blossom and gain immense practical and self-confidence.
What advice would you give someone looking to follow a similar career path?
For me the key I would always say is follow your passion. You have to choose a career you are going to find rewarding and mentally stimulating. This is what keeps you ticking. This is not just about now but 10, 20 and or 30 years down the line and considering whether or not you will be enriched in the long term ?
How have your experiences at Verulam School contributed to your life and successes since leaving school?
I was very lucky to have had a rewarding time at Verulam. I was highly competitive and loved sports; representing the school at Rugby, Football, Cricket and Athletics I was also a full prefect (red badge!) I had some brilliant teachers who brought out the best in me, notably Ronnie Smith (Head of Art) and Ron Osbourne (Head of Geography). They were kind and passionate teachers who afforded all pupils time and saw us all as individuals. I have always tried to keep these values true in my life since. Along with my competitive side, Verulam taught me to never stand still but to look forward to the next challenge.
What House were you in at Verulam School and can you describe one of your fondest memories?
Jennings – simply the best! As a year 7, I played the guitar and for my first lesson, I did not know where to store it; worrying it was going to get damaged. I became very upset and Mr Lane, the then Head of Art, simply chatted to me and helped me see a solution.
I have always wanted to have a go at running my own workshop. This passion still courses through me and I am always looking for opportunities to be creative and practical. I have thought about working part-time and giving it a go, maybe I will one day……?
We love hearing what our alumni have been doing since leaving Verulam School. Each month, we are inviting a member of our alumni community to share their story of life after Verulam. If you’re an alumnus who would like to take part, or you’d like to volunteer an alumnus that you know, then please drop us an email.