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Working lives

The lighthouse inspector Nick West, 33, is contracts office co-ordinator for Trinity House Lighthouse Service's engineering directorate.

Route to job

In 1990, I joined Miller Civil Engineering as a trainee site engineer after studying graphic design. In 1995 I joined Barhale Construction, working for two years as a site manager before being appointed planning and technical manager on an IChem E, green book partnering contract with Barhale and Thames Water. The position suited my planning and organisational skills and helped develop my project management capabilities, but after 10 years in London my partner and I decided to 'downshift' and move to the Isle of Wight.

I continued to commute to Barhale's London office for six months, before applying for another post. This was with Trinity House Lighthouse Service, an organisation responsible for the provision, maintenance and inspection of 72 lighthouses around England and Wales. Trinity was looking for a co-ordinator for its contracts section. I was offered the job last December.


I realised beforehand that Trinity Lighthouse Service's main role was modernising lighthouses and aids to navigation. The position would not, therefore, be one in which I would be able to develop my understanding of civil engineering, but rather a side step from my planning role with Barhale. My job would be to plan and co-ordinate the logistics of ensuring that labour, plant and materials were transported to site, often offshore, in conditions hampered by unpredictable weather. It would also let me develop my use of scheduling software and other IT systems and to assist the contracts management.

The reality

I am in my third month with Trinity, and am already feeling the impact of a substantial salary cut and the loss of a company car - I now travel to work by scooter - although a standard 42-hour week and flexi-time means I can spend more time with my family. The work itself is as demanding as working for a contractor and I am still in the 'honeymoon period' with regard to my fascination with lighthouses. I have so far travelled to site by helicopter, boat and car and already appreciate the considerable logistical problems associated with the weather-beaten locations to which we send our technical installers.


My advice to anyone contemplating a career 'downshift' is to first ensure they have some financial stability. I also had to relinquish my previous authority and some responsibility in the workplace, as I now manage only myself and my own workload. Research the organisation you would like to work for carefully and be prepared to answer questions about being over- qualified. My only other advice is to take a chance if you feel it will enhance your quality of life.

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