So, in his mid-forties, he headed back home to Wolverhampton. “The RAF was my life and I really loved it – I’d joined as an aircraft electrician at 16 and when I had to leave I was responsible for all of the RAF apprenticeships. I looked after about 6,000 people a year. Then it all came to an end so abruptly.”
Dad of six Phil was in the doldrums in a rented property near his parents old house in Oldbury when he had an idea which has helped change the face of the Black Country’s industrial heritage and reunited one of Wolverhampton’s oldest families.
“I’d not spent much time in Wolverhampton in the last 20 years and when I got back I was amazed at how much regeneration work was going on and particularly how much of the work was breathing new life into so many of the city’s iconic buildings.”
James Baker (pictured left) & Sons boot and shoe factory (above)
And it was the sympathetic rebuilding of parts of Wolverhampton town centre in particular which gave him an idea of how to build a new future.
“I started thinking about history and innovation and how the Government is banking on getting Britain back on its feet through building – I realised what the construction industry needs is good trained and qualified workers.
“That’s what I’d done for more than a nearly three decades in the RAF, training people to do a good job in construction. I finally knew which way to go.”
So Phil, who was about to fly out to Afghanistan when was pensioned off due to a knee injury in a gym session, started wandering the streets looking for suitable premises to set up his own private training college.
It was then that he spotted James Baker & Sons boot and shoe factory in Cleveland Road, All Saints, a Grade II listed building which had stood derelict for decades.
The factory had finally closed its doors in the 1970s after more than 100 years and Simon Developments, the firm behind the Springfield Brewery regeneration, was busy turning it into homes, workshops and offices.
Phil said: “Part of it was up for grabs and was perfect for my plan … lots of space to carry practical training in plumbing, electrical installations and all aspects of the building industry. It smelled of history and I felt a bit of a connection to it too.
“I remember once a year my Dad, John who drove the B87 from Birmingham to Dudley – my mum Mary was his clippy – used to visit Baker’s to buy himself some new boots for work and a pair of best shoes. I remembered it with great fondness.”
And it was while rummaging through the abandoned dusty workshops and offices that he came across a series of old framed Victorian and Edwardian photographs of the original Baker family. They had been hidden away in an old cupboard for more than 40 years.
“It was a fantastic find,” Phil said. “There they were tucked away in cupboard. We were in the process of renovating the old boardroom and I decided it would be a nice gesture to the heritage of the place to have the family re-united on the walls of the room where all the business decisions that kept Bakers alive for more than 100 years took place.”
Now Phil and his manager at Engineering Real Results, Sara Learoyd, invited Mr John Baker, the only surviving member of the influential Baker family, to visit the factory to see his relatives restored to their former glory.
Sara, aged 27, said: “We were so pleased that Mr Baker decided to come along that we’ve decided to turn it into an open day based on Wolverhampton’s history and innovation, something to show the people the positive side of regeneration and how they can become involved in building for the future.”
To celebrate the open day on April 25 a set of original art works representing the history of the Bakers factory and the industrial revolution were commissioned and Phil and Sara will be unveiling state-of-the-art virtual reality training in plumbing, bricklaying and electrical installation.
IN THE PRESS
The Express & Star
The Black Country Bugle
The Official Opening
Dr. Jan Telensky shares the values of Victorian innovation.
When people talk about “The Victorians” most of the time the term is used in a negative and derogatory manner. People talk about “Victorian Values”, when they want to describe people who are sexually repressed, or have a harsh, unyielding or draconian attitude. The Victorians however were far from the rigid, inflexible, rule obsessed, intellectual inbreeds some people portray them as.
The Victorians were the architects of our modern world, who laid down the foundations of our current business and information society. Instead of shying away from “Victorian Values” we should be embracing them with the fervour and passion which they had.
The Victorians, like the ones who built this building and buildings surrounding it, had the gift of believing that anything was possible. No mountain was too high, no valley too low; no river was too wide and no continent was too vast that it couldn’t be climbed, spanned, crossed or conquered. Their ideas and their ambition were limitless and challenges and difficulties were things to be overcome not insurmountable obstacles to dishearten them and make them give up.
The Victorian attitude was to relentlessly press forward to their goal, regardless of whatever fate, nature, or even other men threw in their way to stop them. They did this by the simple application of four simple but vital premises: Information, Investigation, Innovation, and Implementation.
Having identified a problem they wanted to solve, or an obstacle the wanted to overcome, they gathered as much information about the problem as they could and clearly defined it. They would then investigate the implications of the problem, find out what resources were required or available to be brought to bear to bring about the solution that was required. If the required resources, systems, process, or procedures weren’t in place or didn’t exist they would innovate to create something new, vigorous, and exciting, to make sure that they could implement their solution and move forward.
If we compare that with what happens today we see that our own information and investigation stages are hampered and mired in concerns such as Health & Safety, Government Rules and Regulations, our P.R. profiles, or the fear of bad publicity. Our ability to innovate, or even in many cases our desire for innovation itself, has been suppressed or killed off by the fear of change or the fear of ridicule, as people tell us “it can’t be done” or “you mustn’t do it like that”. All this of course means that we seldom actually implement a timely or appropriate solution.
In spite of all this there are still some entrepreneurs and innovative thinkers out there in the world of business and science. Men, and women, who embraced the true Victorian ideals of Information, Investigation, Innovation, and Implementation.
Businessmen such as Richard Branson; Jack Cohen, who founded the Tesco supermarket chain; and Jeffery P Bezos, the founder of Amazon. These men have investigated and then changed the way we shop. Men of science like, Tim Berners Lee and Trevor Baylis, the inventor of the clockwork radio, whose innovations have impacted our way of communicating ideas. And men of ideas such as, Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King who have all implemented changes which have bettered the way we think about each other.
I believe that we should all re-embrace the spirit of the real Victorians. I’m sure that those Victorian gentlemen whose Information, Investigation, Innovation, and Implementation originally created this space would be well pleased to see it become a home for students who will go on in the true Victorian tradition to improve their career prospects and lives and contribute to helping us build a better Brittan.
2013 Your New Beginning