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Nick Farrant: Celebrating 40 Years of Service at TWI

Wed, 20 April, 2022

Senior technician, Nick Farrant is one of our longest-serving members of staff, celebrating 40 years of service this year.

Speaking on this milestone achievement, TWI CEO Aamir Khalid, said, "It gives me great pleasure to congratulate Nick on 40 years’ cumulative service to TWI."

Back in 1982, when Nick joined TWI, the first compact discs were produced, Italy won the FIFA World Cup in Spain, Prince William was born, Henry VIII’s flagship – the Mary Rose - was raised from the seabed after 437 years, Channel 4 was launched in the UK, Michael Jackson released ‘Thriller’ the best-selling album of all time, and Time magazine’s ‘Man of the Year’ award was given to a non-human for the first time – being awarded to “the computer.”

It is fair to say that a lot has happened in the past 40 years, both around the world and at TWI – so we took some time to speak with Nick about his time at the company and working in engineering in general...

Congratulations on reaching 40 years of service, but can we take you right back to the start and ask you why you joined TWI in the first place?

Perhaps not the answer you’d expect, but I’d been made redundant after seven years with a company manufacturing capacitors and switchgear for power factor correction. I had an offer to stay in that business by moving to South Africa but, fortunately, a job advert for an NDT Technician at TWI popped up in the local newspaper.

A lot has changed since 1982, how have you seen TWI change over the years?

I’ve seen a lot of changes, mainly from afar as the NDT Lab (Building 14) was located at the northern end of the site almost in the car park/river!

Obviously, technology has changed a great deal. The first desktop PC in the NDT lab was an IBM with 640kb ram running Windows 1.0. I remember installing an expensive full length card to increase the ram to 1Mb.

The move to the Bevan Braithwaite Building with its open plan office working was a big change and took some time to get used to.

You will have worked with many different people over the years, are there any that stand out as being particularly influential or memorable from your time so far?

I guess I would have to say Alan Lank. Alan was a technician, then project leader, in the NDT department whom I worked very closely with for many years and I learnt a lot from him.

Also, without Alan, I wouldn’t be able to say I’d won the TWI Doubles Pool trophy.

You have no doubt worked on a range of projects for many different Industrial Members over the years and will have a host of stories to go with them, but are there any that you can share?

I think I can share this one, as it’s all in the public domain now. Since around 2004, we had been conducting inspections of a particular tubular component in the boilers at a couple of the country’s nuclear power stations.

It’s September 2013 and I’m on the penultimate test of particular phase of work when I get a response I shouldn’t have got. My first thought was our equipment had gone wrong, so moved on to the final test. All okay. Back one step and the anomalous response is still present. Knowing the equipment is okay, this response had to be caused by a crack. Understandably the client didn’t want to hear that word. The result prevented the reactor going back online resulting in the loss of huge sums of money whilst things were investigated further.

I received a lot of leg-pulling from my colleagues over this, with comments like, “the most expensive false call in history”, “I’d clear your desk now if I were you”, and “keep in touch, won’t you.” Eventually, a crack was found and my colleagues’ comments suddenly changed to things like, “I was with him at the time” and “I work on that project.”

As for your career itself, are there any achievements that you are particularly proud of?

Yes, but not being one who likes to be out front making the noises, I prefer to reside in the background and get on with the tasks in hand quietly.

That said, I was proud to receive the TWI Commendation Award in 2015 and, more recently, found myself appearing on the TWI’ staff ‘Wall of Recognition,’ so I guess I wasn’t as far in the background as I thought I was!

You have also been able to travel with your work at TWI – can you let us know more about this?

My work with at TWI has taken me places I would never have visited otherwise, South Africa, Japan, Hong Kong, USA (Denver, Salt Lake City, Houston, Seattle, San Francisco) and various places around Europe. It’s probably true to say, if I’d not worked in Hungary, I wouldn’t have a Hungarian goose down duvet on my bed today.

The travel pinnacle has to be Alaska. In late ’98 I had what I thought would be a once in a lifetime opportunity to visit the North Slope oilfields. Not for one moment did I think I’d be making another twenty-two odd visits over fifteen or so years. Long hours and tough working conditions, but I always looked forward to these visits. Despite there being next to nothing to see, the wilderness of the Arctic tundra has its own beauty. Herds of caribou and the occasional grizzly bear and musk ox roaming free add to the beauty. Away from basecamp, turn the truck engine off and listen. The silence is amazing. Before you ask, yes, I have dipped my toes in the Arctic Ocean and seen the midnight sun.

In todays ‘Zoom’ world (other platforms are available) it’s odd to think that one would travel to Seattle for a day to have a meeting to discuss previous and forthcoming Alaska work, but we did it many times. I recall on one return journey a rather puzzled looking flight attendant approached me and asked, “Excuse me Sir, weren’t you with us yesterday?”

There’d be many tales to tell from my travels, but one that still gets laughs today is Alaska-related. It wasn’t unusual for the team to receive an upgrade on our return flight. On one such occasion we’d been upgraded to Business Class and a flight attendant was handing out broadsheet newspapers when my (nameless) colleague asked, “Have you got The Sun?” The attendant responded with what has to be the greatest retort in history, “No Sir, but I can get you a child’s colouring book if you’d like.”

Of course, these days it is less common for people to stay with one employer for so long, what made you stick with TWI and what do you think the advantages of building a career at TWI have been for you?

I’d have to say I’ve been lucky in that two of the three jobs I’ve had, I’ve enjoyed my work, so a voluntary move was never a consideration. Having come from a job where week four of the month was always a panic it took me a while to get used to the TWI pace. The Abington Hall site was an extremely pleasant environment and where else could you get a pint and a curry on Friday lunchtime without leaving the premises?

I’ve obviously witnessed good and difficult times, but the opportunity to learn new skills, obtain NDT certifications and professional qualifications was always available.

Once again, congratulations for reaching 40 years of valuable service with TWI, but before you go, is there any advice you would like to offer to those looking to follow in your footsteps?

Enjoy your work and take the learning opportunities when offered. 

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