Stewart Brown, lecturer, author and Bonsai fanatic, tells STAL how he has worked his way up from a local authority apprenticeship to being a college lecturer at one of Europe’s premier land-based colleges, as well as being an accomplished sports turf author and soon to be PhD student
What were your early interests and career aspirations?
Though I didn’t have any clear idea what I wanted to do as a career, while at school I definitely had an interest in working and being outdoors, and I enjoyed gardening and horticulture from an early age. Both my father and grandfather had worked for the local parks departments in Accrington so I was aware of the industry.
At school, what were you good at?
I was a fairly good all rounder and did well at O Levels but I didn’t have the desire to further my education in a classroom. My priorities were to get a job, a car and a girlfriend – and I managed to secure a job anyway!
What has been your career path since school?
Instead of A Levels I chose an apprenticeship with my local parks department and I loved it from day one. The variety was great, covering everything from sports surfaces and flower beds through to wall building and grave digging. I did two years of a four-year apprenticeship then studied City & Guilds Horticulture as a day release student. I enjoyed it so much that I decided I wanted to do it full time. I started on the National Certificate then moved on to the National Diploma at Myerscough College.
I later returned to Parks as a technical officer where I was less hands on and more involved in technical administration and then worked as a DSO manager when CCT came in. I went on to complete the IOG, ILAM and RHS qualifications then, once becoming involved in training and education, went on to do a PGCE (teacher training).
My first college position was at Otley College in Suffolk, where I stayed for four years. Then I moved to Writtle (Essex) where I spent 10 years and most recently, about two years ago, moved here to Myerscough College in Lancashire. I was inspired by the teachers when I was here as a student, so to return as a lecturer was a real dream. The college has expanded massively from agriculture and horticulture, and it now covers the spectrum, being one of the biggest players in sports turf education.
What have been your career highlights?
Achieving the IOG NDT, the RHS MHORT and MSc qualification, and also the publication of my first book, Sports Turf & Amenity Grassland Management. Getting my first position in education, with Otley College, was also a real highlight because it has led to where I am today.
How has the grounds profession changed over the years?
The opportunities for education and training have never been greater, and there are so many options surrounding how to study. On the whole, things have professionalised because those within the profession are better educated and, as a result, recognition of groundsmanship has improved - although there is some way still to go. There are also a lot more overseas opportunities and I think a lot of these countries and sports venues do see us as authorities on the subject.
What are the industry’s good and bad points?
I would like to see greenkeepers and groundsmen together. I see them as one subject, one sector, and I would like to see one organisation for the benefit of the industry. I think the industry’s best points are the people in it who generally are approachable, friendly and willing to share knowledge.
What have been your best (and worst) decisions?
I wouldn’t class it as my worst decision but I’d be interested to know where I would be now if I had followed the traditional educational route – A levels, university and a PhD all by the time I was in my mid- 20s. My best decision has to be getting into education – it has its frustrations, but generally, I enjoy it.
What are your other passions in life?
I enjoy nurturing Bonsai trees and growing my own fruit and vegetables.
What are your best and worst traits?
I struggle to say no and as a result I sometimes end up taking on too much.
What does the future hold for you?
I will be starting a PhD next year, and I’m really looking forward to it. I also have a new book coming out next month, Sportsground Management, and will certainly be writing more in the future.