Our series of photographic portraits by Neill Menneer shows Bath people at work
I was born and educated in Chippenham. At 16 I went to work for Graham Watling through the efforts of career advisor Tim Scott who helped me onto The Enterprise Allowance Scheme. This gave you a small amount of income (£22 a week) and was a sort of early apprenticeship programme.
Graham, a well-known gold and silversmith working at Lacock, taught me a lot about metal working. However, when the notorious Bunker brothers tried to monopolise the market silver went through the roof and resulted in my redundancy. Unbeknown to me my friend Dido applied on my behalf for a silversmithing course at Camberwell School of Art. I was travelling at the time and out of the blue I got a call to say I had an interview in London. Mad rush back and after showing my work from Lacock I was accepted.
I had an exciting time in London and shared a flat in Pimlico with Dido and other members of the Chippenham band King Trigger. After graduating I worked for a character called Mark Kirkley who made architectural fixtures and fittings. I also had a workshop in Clerkenwell making lights and other arty metal work for hotels and casinos.
London wasn’t ultimately floating my boat though and my network was thinning out. I couldn’t quite take the country out of the boy. I love the outdoors, nature, gardening and the changing seasons. In London the season was either too hot or cold and not much of the other things I loved in Wiltshire.
In 1987 I left and returned to Chippenham. A few chats in the pub led to work on the motorways building crash barriers. I built that business up (and a related one working with passenger boarding bridges) and was eventually employing 24 people. It was precarious though, as work depended on a series of related contracts and ultimately road building is political and can be turned off and on. My lifestyle was unsustainable in other ways too and I kind of exploded as the work and responsibility became unsatisfying.
My wife Vivian, an accountant, and I decided to run the business down gradually and strive towards a better more relaxed lifestyle. After years of hard graft we were in a good position to buy a house and set up a new business. We now run this building and decorating firm and life is good. We only really work for people we want to and much of this is in Bath or abroad.
We are presently working on projects in France and Italy. Long projects! I’ve learnt a lot from the Italians. How to make joints from wood ‘in the round’ using the whole branch not squaring it off; this saves wood which can be scarce.
What also satisfies the soul is being able to help people locally. The neighbourly act of doing small jobs for people is rewarding. Not for the money but for all the other human reasons. And it makes you feel good.
I am still involved in art though as I paint and I love to collect other artists’ work. Patrick Caulfield, Jo Tilson, Howard Hodgkin, Robin Denny and Dick Smith are all contemporary British artists I love.