I often get asked how I ended up working for a food and farming charity. Here (at least in part) is the answer:
I grew up in the countryside, surrounded by farms, the son of an accountant and a teacher. My father was the finance director for Harper Adams Agricultural College (now University) for many years. Through him I learnt a lot about the business side of farming, while his colleagues generously allowed me, throughout my childhood, to visit and experience the farm and the research labs. Aged 7, I wanted to be a farmer.
My mother had been a secondary teacher, and then later specialised in teaching primary aged children with Specific Learning Difficulties. From her, I got a real insight into schools, teaching and how people learn. Aged 14, I wanted to be an educational psychologist.
So by 21, it seems strange that I was on the way to qualifying as an engineer with ambitions to start and run my own company. And yet it’s all connected.
For the next few years, I worked as a learning technologist at the University of Birmingham, developing tools and services for learners, from primary children to university postgraduates. These included a handheld computer for school field-trips that featured on BBC Tomorrow’s World and an early MOOC for parents and carers of people with autism. Still at Birmingham, I then worked as a commercialisation manager, turning innovations in learning technology into business opportunities. From that, I went on to lead a centre for student entrepreneurs; funding, training and coaching them through their business start-ups (many of which, relating to food). That role expanded to include a management role in the University’s careers service, and becoming a lecturer on the Birmingham MBA.
Life at the University often brought me into contact with people working on food, climate and energy – the grand challenges around which so much research is now focused. I became increasingly keen to find myself a role in one of these.
After a short stint at Coventry University helping them to establish a new centre for Social Enterprise, I then found what I’d been looking for: the chance to lead a small, innovative organisation, working in education to make make its contribution to food security and celebrate the often overlooked story of UK agriculture.