Meet The Member - Alan Marshall

Alan Marshall has been a plumber for over 50 years and, at the age of 75, is still contributing to the industry

Growing up in The Potteries in Stoke-on-Trent, Alan Marshall was destined to follow in his mother’s footsteps and go into the ceramics industry. However, when he left school at 15, he instead opted to start a plumbing apprenticeship.

“I was intending on going into the pottery industry, but there weren’t any vacant positions at the time,” recalls Alan. “However, my brother went to work for the West Midlands Gas Board, so I decided to go down the plumbing route instead. I’m glad I did, as a lot of potteries folded in the following years.”

Alan left school in 1962 and became one of two indentured apprentices for Oswald Coupe Limited – the third biggest plumbing company in Britain, employing around 350 plumbers and 85 apprentices. He attended Stoke-on-Trent Building College three evenings and one day a week, achieving a City & Guilds qualification in Ordinary and Advanced Craft Level, Plumbing and Sanitary Engineering.

“I finished my apprenticeship in 1967 – the era when central heating had only been out a few years,” says Alan. “I went to work for a small company as an assistant central heating manager, but it folded shortly after, when the chair of the company died. It was at this point that I decided to go self-employed.”

Branching out

In 1968, at just 21 years old, Alan established his own heating and plumbing business, which started off as a one-man band and gradually expanded over the years to include employees and subcontractors.

Alan’s father was a bricklayer and had contacts in the building and pottery industries, which secured him regular work. This continued until the late 80s, when he lost both of his parents within a short time of each other and made the decision to come off the tools.

“In 1989, my wife Jennifer and I decided to purchase a small plumbers’ merchants, which we ran until 2005, when she became seriously ill,” recalls Alan. “We sold the business the same year and I took some time off.”

New recruit

After deciding to go back to installing in 2005, Alan was approached by the Construction Skills College to teach plumbing and central heating to City & Guilds level at the Stoke-on-Trent and Wolverhampton campuses. Accepting the position, he worked part time at the college and continued plumbing.

He remained teaching at the Construction Skills College until 2015, when he moved positions to teach part time at Walsall College of Further Education for a few months to cover for another lecturer.

“I was still in great demand from customers for plumbing work, so I have continued taking on private jobs,” explains Alan. “I have worked for most of my customers for decades. In fact, I work for four generations of customers.”

Alan in his police uniform in 1988

Double life

In addition to his work within the heating and plumbing industry, Alan also volunteered as a special constable for Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent police.

“When I was 21, a friend told me he was going to join the police, so I went along with him,” recalls Alan. “While I was there, I got chatting to one of the police officers and he encouraged me to join the Special Constabulary.”

Alan was a member of the Special Constabulary for 33 years, from 1966 to 1999, covering six towns in Stoke-on-Trent. He retired in 1999 as a chief inspector in charge of hundreds of people. During this time he racked up 15 years’ worth of hours.

Joining forces

It was in 1976, at the age of 29, that Alan became a member of the Institute of Plumbing and has served on the Institute’s local, regional and national committees over the years.

Alan served on the Institute’s National Technical Council, Registration Council and General Council. He was also honorary branch secretary and branch chairman in Hanley for a number of years.

“I worked hard to raise membership at the branch and within months I had succeeded,” says Alan. “I secured a venue at a local hotel for trade evenings, with presentations from manufacturers, distributors and colleges. We went from 30 to 350 members within two years and formed a management committee.”

Alan was presented with the IOP national trophy for branch Recruitment IOP by G.Banks, National President 1981

His aptitude for attracting new members helped his branch win the Jimmy Haig National Cup for Recruitment in 1980. Soon after, Alan was asked to join the North West Regional Committee in Manchester, the National Registration Council and National Technical Council. He was local president of APHC for North Staffordshire Master Plumbers Association in 1990 and attended all the national AGMs, conferences and exhibitions representing the Institute. In 1988, Alan was awarded the Copper Development Association Plumber of the Year National Award.

Well aware of current issues with recruitment in the industry, Alan believes the government should be doing more to encourage people into heating and plumbing. “In my day there were thousands of jobs for apprentices and now it’s the total opposite,” says Alan. “Without doubt, the government should be doing more to provide more apprenticeships. What is going to happen if we don’t have decent apprenticeships and the right courses? Changes must be carried out in our industry by all involved now and moving forward.”

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