Apprentice to Assistant Accountant



Written by Stuart Crabtree, Assistant Accountant

After completing my A-levels in Geography, Economics and Physics, unlike most of my peers, I decided that I did not want to go to university. I then began delving into my options to gain further qualifications whilst gaining work experience, and an Apprenticeship seemed to be the ideal course of action to follow. Knowing that I enjoyed working with numbers, I chose to narrow my search to an accountancy apprenticeship which lead me to the opening of HICSE’s Apprenticeship role.

I therefore submitted my CV and the wait began.  A few weeks later, I was invited to attend an interview at Manvers House. The day came and I was taken into my first interview, which I would later find out was being conducted by who would be my immediate colleagues – Allen Hunt (Assistant Accountant) and Kaman Sze (Financial Planning Assistant). Immediately following my first interview, I was interviewed by Mike Docksey (Finance Manager) and roughly a week later, I received an email confirming I had been offered the Apprenticeship with HICSE and would be completing a level 3 AAT qualification. On the 27th of August 2019, I started my first day with HICSE which was an exciting but nerve-racking day having come straight from school where I knew lots of people to an office environment where I knew nobody or what was expected of me!

As part of my Apprenticeship, it was agreed that Thursdays would be my study day so that I could attend the online course (which consisted of video lectures and skills books which I had to complete within a set timeframe).  I have also had to take 5 external exams (which proved very difficult to arrange due to COVID-19), however I have now passed 4 of the exams and am currently awaiting the results of the 5th exam which will be published later this month.  I will also have to engage in a professional discussion with AAT and in addition to that, I have finalised my evidence portfolio which has been submitted to AAT (this is required to prove that I am using accountancy skills in the workplace).

During the other 4 days a week, I have been working alongside Allen (who is also my mentor) to complete month end tasks, processing purchase and sales invoices, as well as other ad hoc tasks.  Mike has also given me a number of ad hoc tasks to further my development.

With the end of my Apprenticeship coming to an end in December, I was very pleased to be offered permanent employment as an Assistant Accountant with HICSE and it is planned that I will also work towards a level 4 accounting qualification in my own time.

To date it has been a steep learning curve, but I have thrived on being part of a friendly and supportive team who have ensured that I am involved in a wide range of tasks.

Published 13/01/2021

A Gold Standard Trip



Written by Matthew Diggle, Engineering Manager

Avid readers of the HICSE website may remember that I have done some work with the Morning Star Trust sailing charity in the past, supported by Hitachi’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme. One of the things that the Morning Star Trust does is run Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme expeditions and this year the charity asked if I would become an official Expedition Assessor, able to monitor expeditions up to “Gold” Level. The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme is actually a large organisation with lots of groups and support services, and it runs a very slick training programme. Through this I learned about the key aspects of an Award Scheme expedition and that, although most young people do the traditional “walk across mountains carrying large packs” type of expedition, it is also possible for them to do different types of expedition, including by bike, horse-back, canoe, or on a sailing boat.

Obviously, the restrictions due to the Coronavirus pandemic have turned the world upside-down over the past few months, and one of the minor side-effects of this is that recreational sailing, including Award Scheme expeditions, has been impossible over the summer. However, one group of girls that had postponed an expedition from earlier in the year worked out that if they formed a “bubble” and if various other safeguards were put in place then it would be possible to run the trip over the autumn half-term, so it was off to sea for me again after all. Usually groups have a week of training and practice followed by a separate 4-day expedition during the long summer holiday, but because this group only had their half-term break, we had to fit everything into a single week. Although the group had to plan their own routes and sail the boat, there had to be a skipper and mate (me) on-board to teach them about sailing and to make sure that they were safe. We also had to do the manoeuvring and parking in marinas and harbours.

 Our trusty yacht “Bright Star”

This particular group had not found the thought of walking, carrying packs, and camping particularly appealing. On the other hand, they reasoned, you get a cabin on a boat and, once the sails are up, you can spend quite a lot of the time sitting down watching the world go by. Sadly for them, because it was now rather late in the season, the weather conditions were not ideal, so they had to work a lot harder, and when they could sit down it was not particularly warm or dry. In fact there was considerably more wind than strictly necessary and at one point the wind tore the mainsail, so we had to put in to harbour to fit a replacement. Later on the force of the wind bent a metal fitting holding one of the other sails. However, I am by training a mechanical engineer so rather stereotypically I got out the tool-box and after the judicious application of a hammer to the offending part it was roughly back to its original shape, although to be honest I don’t think it’ll ever be quite the same again. Still, my rough and ready repair enabled us to keep sailing safely for the rest of the week.

 An expedition you can do sitting down, even (occasionally) in the sunshine

 The crew are smiling, so it can’t have been too bad!

The girls were all novice sailors and they did find the conditions a little alarming at times. One of them in particular did not find my advice that she should enjoy her breakfast as it may be her last-ever meal particularly helpful. Still, we were able to show them how to sail the boat safely in strong winds and quite big waves. It was great to see how they gained confidence both in the boat and in their own abilities during the week, and by the end they were comfortable in conditions that quite a few more seasoned sailors might have baulked at.

 By the end of the week we would all laugh in the face of danger

Another aspect of an Award Scheme expedition is that the group have to do their own catering. This was relatively straight-forward in the evenings when the boat was tied-up, but a bit more “interesting” at lunchtime when the boat was underway. Once again they got better at it as the week went on and by the end they were happy to go down into the cabin whist the boat was bouncing around and produce a simple hot meal. Actually all this was quite a treat for the skipper and me, as we were not allowed to help with cooking or washing up but we were allowed to eat.

Later on in the evenings the group had a little time for relaxation, but the pandemic restrictions meant that they couldn’t leave the boat so they tended to play incredibly competitive games of UNO. As a father of three boys I had not previously realised quite how piercingly loud a group of teenage girls could be.

 An evening card game getting underway

The skipper and I got our own back though because we are famous (or infamous) for our sense of humour. On this trip we found that our selection of “dad jokes” were totally beyond the girls’ experience and we discovered that a joke that has to be explained instantly becomes completely un-funny to the audience, however we found them trying to explain our jokes and puns to each other hilarious.

The weather forecast for the last day of the trip was for even stronger winds, so we moved into more sheltered waters the previous evening. This was a wise move as the next morning there were very large, breaking waves at the entrance to the harbour and if we had been foolish enough to try sailing through them then our breakfast could very well have been our last. To reinforce this message I saw a news report a little later in the day about a yacht a little further off-shore that had been capsized by a freak wave and although the sailor wasn’t injured they had to be rescued by the RNLI and Coastguard helicopter. At times like that I think that my policy of being a relatively cautious and risk-averse sailor is a good idea.

 The skipper on the helm on the last day, whilst I was downstairs navigating

As part of an Award Scheme expedition the group has to have an “aim” so the girls decided to film parts of the trip and produce a video of sailing hints and tips, which they showed to us when we arrived back at the boat’s home marina. I was impressed by how much the girls learned over quite a short period, and by how well they coped with quite challenging conditions, so I was pleased to be able to tell them that they’d successfully completed their expedition. I was also pleased, and more than a little surprised, to hear them say that they had enjoyed themselves and that we hadn’t put them off sailing for life. Sadly, the announcement later that day of a new lockdown means that the Morning Star Trust’s first Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme trip of 2020 will also be its last, so it’s time for me to pack away my sailing gear until next year.

Published 10/11/2020

Lottie’s Lockdown Tour




Lottie has visited the office of Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe (“HICSE”) in Bradford on Avon, Wiltshire on several occasions, but what a different experience she had this year!

The last occasion Lottie came to spend time with us was 12 months ago when, amongst other things, she visited our local railway station to admire the architecture, designed by the great Isambard Kingdom Brunel. HICSE is delighted to have this small but stylish station on our doorstep, because of course we’re part of the railway industry! At that time, HICSE was based in an old building near the centre of Bradford-on-Avon, but since then we’ve relocated to a beautiful, new, purpose built office on the outskirts of the town. However, when Lottie arrived there, she found it was empty, in total darkness, and with the doors firmly shut because of the Covid lockdown! At first Lottie worried about what she was going to do, but happily she was able to join one of the female HICSE engineers, who was working from her home in Bath during the lockdown.

The first thing Lottie noticed was that working from home was very different from working in the office – there were no face-to-face conversations, no opportunities to catch up with friends and colleagues over a coffee, and all communication had to be via phone calls, instant messaging or video calls. Stranger still, Lottie and her new friend had to stay indoors all day, and were only allowed out for one hour, once a day. Lottie noticed that now her new friend was working from home, she was starting to look a bit different – gone was the make-up, gone was any attempt to tame her hair, and her usual office clothes had been replaced with something a little (ahem!) more casual. Her home was different too with the living room dominated by 2 large screens borrowed from the office, which were essential for her work.

Lottie's Lockdown Tour

Next came another significant change – Lottie’s new friend stopped working altogether! When Lottie asked why her friend’s laptop was switched off all day, why she had stopped making so many phone calls, and why she was watching so much TV, her friend explained that she had been furloughed as the virus had stopped some of the projects happening. Being furloughed meant that she was not allowed to do any work at all until the company authorized it.

Just as Lottie’s visit came to an end, her friend was allowed to return to work, but only part time, and she had to continue working from home. Lottie agreed that it had been a very strange visit, but her new friend explained that it showed how adaptable the company and its staff could be in these exceptional times.

Lottie’s friends at HICSE had been looking forward to showing her around their fantastic new office, and so were all very disappointed when that wasn’t possible. We’re hoping that when Lottie comes to visit again next year, she’ll be able see inside our new office, and meet colleagues who have joined the company since she last paid us a visit.

Keep an eye on our social media pages this week to see how Lottie got on as she shares her photos.


Posted 02/11/2020

My Science Fair 2020



Supported by Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe (HICSE), the Wiltshire Music Centre based in Bradford on Avon, hosted their annual My Science Fair event.

The idea is to attract school children to music and science and it resulted in over 900 people attending the one day event.

The event consisted of performances, demonstrations, team workshops and drop-in experiences.  Everyone who attended were given the opportunity to get involved.

A big part of the day was the My Science Fair Project competition to which HICSE sponsored The Hitachi Prize for Innovation and the competition was high but the lucky winner was Sam from Widcombe Infants School in Bath.  Congratulations Sam!

The competition gave 61 local primary school children the opportunity to develop their skills in music and science.  They were given 3 months to choose a question based on their interests, decide how they would investigate their question and display their findings at the fair in March.

During the event, the children were asked to contribute towards writing The My Science Fair Symphony.  This song was written to demonstrate the links between music and science and to reflect on what they had enjoyed and learnt leading up to the event and the event itself.  It was then performed at the end of the day by a full auditorium of children and adults.

The Wiltshire Music Centre had many aims for the My Science Fair event and managed to exceed them all.  The main one being the amount of people attending and getting involved.

At HICSE, we are pleased to have supported this local event, which got so many children involved.

Congratulations to everyone who got involved.

To find out more about the Wiltshire Music Centre and other events that will hopefully start taking place again soon, please visit

Posted 11/08/2020

New Bradford on Avon offices are now open



Hitachi is pleased to announce the opening of its new offices in Bradford on Avon


London, December 16 2019 --- Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe (HICSE), a supplier of innovative software solutions to the global rail industry, is relocating on December 16 to new offices located less than a mile away from its current premises.

One of Bradford on Avon’s leading employers, HICSE’s head office has been located at its current site on Kingston Road since 2010. It is moving to Middleton Drive on the new Kingston Farm development from Ashford Homes.

The move comes as a result of HICSE’s continued growth over the past few years, which has seen the permanent workforce increase to over 140 people. It also reflects the strategic expansion of its rail business both in the UK and overseas.


Tim Gray, HICSE Managing Director, commented:

We are pleased to be moving into the new premises in Bradford on Avon and to continuing our long-standing association with the local community and the Southwest region. The new offices will provide an excellent workspace for our staff and enable efficient delivery and collaboration for our customer and suppliers. Together with our Derby and Plymouth offices we are ready to build on the exciting opportunities in today’s railway industry.


About Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe Ltd.

Hitachi Information Control Systems Europe brings together many years of experience in delivery and support of simulation, control and traffic management systems. In the U.K. our products form an essential part of Network Rail’s operational infrastructure, enabling safe and efficient performance via our training simulator and automated route setting systems.

To meet rail sector challenges, our team are driving industry-changing innovations in full lifecycle modelling and simulation, including automated data validation and design optimisation solutions. We are now combining our products and experience with those of our parent company, Hitachi Limited, to deliver market leading information and control solutions such as the Tranista Traffic Management platform and related Digital Railway solutions.


For further information about the company, please visit:

Or contact Denise Watkins, Business Development Manager:

Tel 07872 147616



Posted 16/12/2019

Global Women’s Summit 2019 in Tokyo



Written by Mel Sutcliffe, Senior Test Engineer

Sarah Rogers and I were lucky enough to be nominated to attend Hitachi’s Global Women’s Summit (GWS) 2019 in Tokyo – and naturally we jumped at the chance! As a result, on the 31st of October we found ourselves in the grand ballroom of the Keio Plaza Hotel, accompanied by approx. 180 other delegates from all over the world.

This year for the first time, both male and female delegates were invited to attend this summit, and so in addition to 153 female delegates, there were 27 male delegates

Interestingly, it was noted by several male speakers how strange/difficult they initially found being in such a small minority.

The summit started with a welcome address from Mr. Toshiaki Higashihara, the President and CEO of Hitachi Ltd. 

This was followed by a speech from Ms. Cynthia Carroll, the Outside Director,  and a talk from Mr. Hidenobu Nakahata, the Senior Vice President and Executive Officer, CHRO, and General Manager of Human Capital Group.

The second session of the day consisted of a panel discussion with a theme of “How can we create a workplace with diversity and inclusiveness?”. This question was debated by a panel of 6 guest speakers, comprising 2 men and 4 women, with Ms. Yukiko Araki moderating 

This discussion was immediately followed by a group photograph.


After a traditional bento box lunch , we split into groups to attend a number of workshops. There were several official photographers at the event, and I was captured participating in the ‘Unconscious Bias’ workshop (top right photograph), and Sarah was photographed in the ‘Coaching: Effective Questions’ workshop (bottom right photograph).

After the workshops had finished, we all returned to the ballroom for Mr. Toshiaki Higashihara’s Closing Remarks speech.

The event concluded with a Networking Dinner, during which time I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Toshiaki Higashihara, and to get several photographs with him 


I was also asked to participate in a videoed interview, and the footage will be used in the GWS video that will soon be made available via the YouTube Hitachi Brand Channel (link to follow when available).

Tokyo – Sightseeing.

In addition to attending the summit, Sarah and I joined our colleagues Tom Ross, Luke Dyer and Karsten Cox for a spot of sightseeing. Here we all are, not looking in the slightest bit bemused and jet lagged!

Soon after our arrival, we were lucky enough to be able to watch England beat New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup semi-finals in a local Sports Bar. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) no photos survive of this evening, so you’ll just have to use your imagination!

Our hotel was in a district of Tokyo called ‘Akihabara’, which is commonly referred to as ‘Electric City’. The skyscrapers were tall, the advertising displays were enormous, the signs were brightly coloured, and it was a busy, noisy place all day, and late into the night. 


Tokyo is home to numerous Temples and Shrines – after the excitement of ‘Electric City’, we visited a number of these sites to experience the more serene and peaceful side of Tokyo 


As you can see in the following photo, insisting on have a selfie taken with your colleagues doesn’t always result in a sea of smiley happy faces 

One of the highlights of my trip was the evening Sarah and I visited the ‘The SkyTree’ – the tallest free-standing broadcasting tower in the world 

We travelled by an express elevator to the higher of the two observation desks (this wasn’t an outing for anyone with a fear of heights!), and after indulging in a little Dutch courage , we made our way along the futuristic viewing platform , and took in the sights of the city from 450 meters above ground level.

To finish this article, here’s a photo of a Panda in the zoo at Ueno (another district of Tokyo) – it looked about exhausted as I did by the end of the trip, but it was an unforgettable experience!! 

Posted 04/12/2019

All At Sea



Written by Matthew Diggle, Engineering Manager

Sleep deprivation, disorientation, and a general feeling of lack of progress might sound like a normal day at the office, but add feeling cold and wet whilst sitting outside on a boat made of concrete that’s pitching and rolling in the middle of the English Channel and you get a flavour of my time volunteering with a sail training charity as part of Hitachi’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme. I spent a week helping with a couple of trips for young people, and if I’m honest it wasn’t all hard work. 

The crew for the first part of the week joined the boat without knowing each other and, in general, with very little sailing experience. I was Second Mate, in charge of a “watch” of five, and my role was to mould them into a tight-knit band of expert mariners, or at the very least help them to work together and learn how to do some of the tasks on-board without injuring themselves or each other. 

We started off in Chatham and went a little way down the Medway to anchor for the night. Checking the weather forecast the next morning showed that, although things were fine to the east of Kent, a storm out in the Atlantic was making the sea in the English Channel rather rough, so to avoid the worst of the conditions we decided to head for Ramsgate. As predicted the waves did get bigger as we approached Ramsgate, and it was at this point, as we dropped sails and prepared to enter the harbour, that the engine decided not to start. There were various options available but we had set our hearts on visiting Ramsgate, so we radioed up to see if anyone could give us a tow. Rather embarrassingly it was the huge blue and orange RNLI all-weather lifeboat that turned up to drag us in. 

The next morning, with the engine repaired, we set off for northern France. This proved to be a rather gruelling 27-hour battle into wind and waves, with the watches running 3 hours on, 3 hours off throughout. This wasn’t too bad during the day, but waking people in the middle of the night and getting them up on deck is a different matter. However, all the crew did their best, despite quite severe sea-sickness in some cases, and we sailed on through the darkness watching the lights on-shore getting ever so slowly closer. Finally, as dawn approached, we entered the harbour in Dieppe.

We spent the day in France where we came across a vintage car rally. The cars seemed to date from a period before silencers were invented. As we watched from a “respectful” distance, the owner of one, which was obviously Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang’s noisy, older sibling, swung the starting handle and it started up thunderously with flames coming out of the exhausts, surprisingly close to the petrol tank.

The next day we set off back across the Channel, heading for Portsmouth. This trip was much more comfortable although it still required standing watch through the night, but we were rewarded with a stunning sunrise as we approached the Isle of Wight.

When we arrived I swapped over to the charity’s other, smaller, boat to be First Mate for a rather excitable group of sea-scouts to take part in the Association of Sail Training Organisations’ Small Ships race in the Solent. To start with there was little to no wind, so we drifted with the tide and at one point we were going sideways using what little wind there was to avoid a very large green buoy. We just made it, but in the process I think we rather frightened a couple of chaps who were out for a quiet day fishing in their little motor boats. Fortunately the wind picked up for the leg back towards the finishing line at Cowes and we were pleased, and more than a little surprised, to find out that we came first in our class. In fact, we would have been first overall if we hadn’t picked up a penalty for missing one of the marks. In the evening there was a prize-giving ceremony, where we were presented with a (not terrifically exciting) book, followed by a bit of a celebration. 

Our great victory in the race made the sea-scouts even more enthusiastic, so rather than going straight back to drop them off the next day we spent a few hours sailing in somewhat breezier conditions. 

It was rewarding to see how much the sea-scouts had learned and how much better they were at working together. 

I was rather tired by the end of the week and didn’t get home until almost midnight, so I returned to work the next day suffering from sleep deprivation, feeling slightly disorientated, and wondering how much progress there had been whilst I was away, so it was business as usual. But at least I was warm and dry! 

Posted 11/11/2019

Lottie’s Tour of HICSE 2019



The theme of Lottie’s Tour this year is 'Then and Now' to celebrate the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) Centenary.

We therefore took Lottie to visit our local railway station at Bradford on Avon, as it contains some fascinating historical items. Lottie discovered that the first passenger train arrived at Bradford on Avon railway station in 1857 (before WES was even formed!), and that the station has the honour of being designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel himself!


Whilst looking around the railway station, Lottie took advantage of the GWR (Great Western Railway) and BR (British Rail) benches to take a break in the sunshine, and spend a happy few moments admiring the architecture, and watching the arrival and departure of several trains.


With the 'Then and Now' theme of this year’s tour in mind, we dug deep into our archives here in the HICSE office and found examples of some older technology, which Lottie was keen to examine, and to learn more about.


During a quiet moment on her last day here with us at HICSE, Lottie spent some time reading some of this year’s Hitachi publications, and considering how much things have changed in the field of engineering since WES was established 100 years ago.


HICSE’s office is relocating shortly, so this is the last time we’ll welcome Lottie to this site. We’re therefore looking forward to showing her round our fantastic new offices during ‘Tomorrow’s Engineers’ week in 2020. Thanks for visiting us Lottie, see you next year!!

To find out more information about Lottie’s Tour, and to see the other companies that Lottie is visiting this year, search for #WESLottieTour.

To find out more about WES, visit their website:


Posted 06/11/2019

International Women in Engineering Day 2018


Tomorrow, 23rd June 2018, is International Women in Engineering Day and takes place on this date every year. 

It is an international awareness campaign to raise the profile of women in engineering and focuses on the variety of career opportunities which are available for women to move into.  The idea of the day is to celebrate the outstanding achievements of women engineers throughout the world.

What a lot of people don't know is that less than 11% of the engineering sector in the UK is made up of women and with a large skills gap and the need for a more diverse workforce, it has never been more important to inspire and encourage more people, especially women, to choose a career in engineering and by supporting International Women in Engineering Day you are helping.

Women in Engineering

There was a huge success with the level of engagement on websites, Twitter and the official hashtag, #INWED17, which received over 34,000 impressions on the actual day alone.

This year the hashtag is #RaisingTheBar (as well as #INWED18) with the aim to raise the awareness of the day even more than last year.

Like many other engineering companies HICSE has a familiar historically-skewed demographic, but we are making good progress and wholeheartedly support the WES initiatives. To recognise the day (and the challenges) we have spoken to a couple of our female engineers and asked them to write a bit about themselves and being an engineer in such a male dominated environment. 

Women in Engineering

The first one is Mel Sutcliffe's article who is currently a Test Engineer at HICSE:

My first job in the IT Industry was working on an IT Help Desk – an experience I’m sure lots of people in this industry will be familiar with. Spending a couple of years in this type of (largely thankless) support role is something of a rite of passage for many - and inevitably, it’s made me much more sympathetic towards the voice at the end of phone when I’m calling any kind of Help Desk or Call Centre! At this point in my career, I was working with a fairly equal mix of men and women.

Having paid my dues on the Help Desk, I moved into the Test Department of the same company, and qualified as a Test Engineer. I subsequently took increasingly senior jobs with different companies, and initially didn’t notice the ratio of men to women changing. However, the more technical my role became, the less women I encountered in the workforce. Eventually, I found myself working as a Senior Test Engineer in a company which consisted of 44 men, and me - the only woman! Soon after starting, I was taken aside and offered the option of having one of the two toilets on my floor assigned exclusively to me. I was tempted to ask them to paint the walls of ‘my’ toilet pink, and hang pictures of frolicking kittens (in tiaras) on the walls, but instead I declined their kind offer, and continued to share the somewhat limited facilities equally with the rest of the workforce. I sometimes dream of that little pink palace I could have created for myself…

I’ve continued to work in environments which consist mainly of men; I previously had a team of all male Test Engineers working for me, and my current department comprises 11 men and just 1 woman – me!

Writing this article has made me question how and why I’ve stayed the course, when other women haven’t; what have I done, or what have I got? I’d love to end this piece with some fantastic moment of self-realisation – Eureka! I’ve found the holy grail of female equality - but I’m afraid I’m going to have to disappoint you on that one... I don’t know why I’m sitting in a room with 11 men and no other women – we’re as intelligent, driven and determined as men, but the numbers simply don’t add up.

I hope one day that the ratio of men to women in the IT industry will become more equal, but I’m afraid that goal seems to be a very long way off at the moment.

Women in Engineering

The second article comes from the HICSE Head of Company Assurance:

How I managed to have it all – just not all at the same time!

Most of the people I work with have very similar back stories. They left school, went to university, graduated and started full time work. As graduates the one thing they had in common was that the jobs they went into were a stepping stone to better things. They had Prospects!

At the same age I had left school with no plan, direction or ambition and had three children in four years. This kept me busy for a while. Had my partner been a millionaire I would probably had a few more children and continued to aimlessly potter on. That wasn’t the case so given that children grow out of their clothes and shoes and require food and shelter on a regular basis it became apparent that paid work would have to come into the equation somewhere along the line. So paid work I did! Over the years I pulled pints, flipped burgers, stacked shelves, cleaned things, delivered free papers and sold coffee over the phone. The one thing all these jobs had in common was that they could be fitted in round the children and they paid, albeit badly given that this was before the minimum wage came along.

Fast Forward: I’m broke, shattered and bored. Also older and wiser. There’s no shame in being poor but it’s no picnic either. I decided I wanted to change things so did some research. It seemed that anything to do with computers was the way to go. As I had never even touched a computer at that point I decided to go to an open evening at the local college to find out about evening classes with the vague idea that if I could find out how to use a word processor it might be a Good Thing. Judging by the hourly rates quoted in the Sits Vac columns of the time it would certainly be a way of earning a lot more money.

I went along to the open evening and met the person who would be my tutor for the next two years while I completed a full time HND in Business and Information Technology. Quite how I went from finding out about learning a skill that would pay at evening classes to signing up to become a full time mature student for two years is probably a whole book in itself but without the guidance and support I received that evening it would never have happened. I couldn’t see it happening when I signed up for the course but two years later I walked out of college with an HND and the confidence to sign up for a further year of study – a conversion course leading to a BSc in European Software Engineering.

The new course involved a term a term each at an English, Irish and French university. After I had spent the first 12 weeks driving up to Huddersfield on a Sunday night and back home on a Friday I was ready to quit! The family, children included, spent the fortnight’s Christmas holiday giving me ‘pep talks’. Mainly of the JFDI variety!

Early the next January the children and I loaded as many of our possessions as would fit into my battered Skoda and boarded a ferry to Ireland to spend three months in Cork – me at college and the children at school. It did us all the world of good and we got on the ferry to come back to England in a distinctly tearful mood.

The scene above repeated itself for the final term of the course, this time France. A condition of starting the course modules in any location was passing all those at the end of the previous term I had scraped through (just) at Huddersfield but did much better in Cork. The third term in France was the decider but when I put the last full stop on the last exam paper I couldn’t have cared less about the end result – I had stayed the course! (I passed.)

A big reality check followed on returning to England. I had a brand new shiny degree but now had to decide what to do with it. The HND and degree course timetables gave me the same long holidays as the children. I couldn’t possible hold down a full time job during the school holidays could I?? Think again. Plenty of other people were doing just that – how did they do it? I did some more research, worked it out and went to an agency. They found me a full time job as a Technical Assistant for six months. Four months in I was offered a permanent position which I declined. My long-suffering (they must have been – I was there for 13 years in the end) employers asked why. I explained that I had left one thing off my CV when applying to the agency – my degree. My reasoning at the time was that if the childcare thing didn’t work out I wouldn’t have a blot on my record – or rather my hard-won shiny degree. I figures I would get round to using it eventually but it might have to wait.

Much to my surprise instead of dismissing me as one of the terminally faint hearted my employers offered to sign me up for their graduate trainee programme. I said ‘Yes please!’ I had a riot! I was never bored at work, I learned a lot, I got promoted a lot, I traveled and I met many interesting people.

Fast Forward 13 years: All good things come to an end. The company I was working for was taken over by a much larger company and when voluntary redundancy was put on the table I was one of the takers. Walking out of the place for the last time without a job to go to was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. However, the week before I left I had attended an interview at a very small company – headcount 40 – and the only ray of hope was a second interview the following Monday. I got the job!

Fast Forward 7 years: Today I am Head of Company Assurance for Hitachi Information Control Systems (Europe) Ltd (HICSE), the new name of the small company I went to work for, following its acquisition by Hitachi. My youngest child is 30 and I have a 14 year old granddaughter. I have learnt a lot over the course of the years, the most important things being;-

  1. It is NEVER too late to do anything. There are eighty year olds (and older) running marathons!
  2. You can have it all but probably not at the same time. The hard part for me was working out what ‘it’ was. ‘It’ is different for all of us. Step 2 is working out the ‘when’.
  3. Other people’s opinions are nice to have if good and awful if bad. Don’t ignore either but learn to be your own best critic. If I had listened to other people all those years ago when they said I was crazy to consider going back to college ‘at your age’ I probably would still be broke, bored and exhausted!

If you would like to find out more information about the day, please visit and keep an eye on all social media tomorrow where you will find a lot activity going on


Classic Car Winter Maintenance



Written by Stephen Hawkins, HICSE Senior Test Engineer

This winter, whilst everyone else was staying in the warm and dry, avoiding the cold weather, I was doing some major work on my classic car, in a barn/workshop on a windswept hill, in the Cotswolds.

 One of the major issues that was spoiling my enjoyment of my 'classic' 1975 Scimitar SE5a, was that the gearbox was jumping out of 2nd (sometimes with a disconcerting bang!) when the throttle was feathered.  Whilst this was not an issue when on a run, it was a pain in the town.  Not only that, but everywhere I parked the Scimitar, it left its calling card - oil.  In my case both transmission oil and engine oil.  My driveway was suffering and you could 'smell it' on a warm day.  Although, to be fair, the oil was doing an excellent job of preserving the chassis!

 However, something had to be done.  This sort of thing takes planning, a working gearbox had to be sourced.  This was accomplished during the previous August where a working, oil tight, gearbox was pulled from a wreck, one weekend, for the princely sum of £100, including propeller shaft and all other linkages and fittings (the Propeller shaft was later sold to a needy Scimitar owner in Finland, for a very small consideration).

 So then came the big day in early December, after all connections and mounts had been undone and the bonnet removed, to pull the engine and gearbox out of the car.  A two man operation, to do it safely.  The old iron Ford Essex V6 and gearbox are a heavy old lump, when connected together.

classic car

 The engine was then split from the gearbox, where it became obvious that a new clutch would be required, as bits of spring from the friction plate, dropped out of the bell housing.

 The engine was always fine, with good compression and good oil pressure.  So the plan was to just flush out all the waterways, replace the core plugs, and rear main seal.  Then just service it, paint it, and pop it back in.  Simples!

Classic Car

 The 'new to me' gearbox, just needed a filter clean (overdrive), new oil and a clean and paint.  A messy business, but an easy one, for the budding mechanic.

Classic Car

 The engine was then painted a rather fetching shade of green, and then re-attached to the gearbox, with the new clutch, ready to go back in.

Classic Car

The engine bay was then cleaned up, including the scraping off of all the congealed oil and dirt as far as I could reach.  It became obvious that a new radiator was required, along with all new pipe-work for the cooling system, with all new stainless jubilee clips (ouch!).  Also, there are a lot of panels in the engine bay, in front of the engine, that duct the air to the radiator, all these were powder coated and replaced where necessary.  As a bonus, we managed to flush out the heater matrix, which had never, in my experience, allowed water through, to get the heater working again.

 As you can imagine, it was some months before I was ready to put the engine back in, with 'new to me' tubular header pipes for the exhausts.  But in it went, if rather gingerly. 

Classic Car

 After reconnecting all the mounts, electrics, pipes (water and fuel), etc, it was soon time to try the restart.  This was a surprisingly underwhelming affair, as it started on the second try.  So after a thorough warm up, bleed and checking that the cooling fan came on when the engine was hot, we were done.

Classic Car

 Now all I had to do was wait.........The law has changed this year (20th May 2018), as this car is now well over 40 years old, it no longer requires an MOT.  Yes, you heard right, not only is it free tax, as a Classic Car, but an MOT is now only voluntary and can be avoided by declaring the car as VHI (Vehicle of Historic Interest), a tick box on the new tax form.  However, I will be having the car inspected by a third party at some point this year, just for my peace of mind, and to get my next list of jobs to do.