Growing up, Callum never knew he would grow up to be an arborist. “I only ever heard of tree work when one of my close friends invited me to go and help with repairing a tractor, which was owned by a forestry company.” he recalled. “When we turned up and I saw all of the machines and how they worked, I was hooked! So, I started going at least once a week as well as working full time in a retail store.”
As the season moved to summer, Callum began accompanying the team on larger jobs including tree felling.
“One day we pulled up to site and found that the tractor had a flat tire, so the driver had to go and get it repaired. As I was already on site, he told me to go and assist the tree fellers with getting trees down. Before he left, he gave me specific instructions - ‘NOT TO USE A CHAINSAW!’. As soon as he left one of the tree fellers gave me a chainsaw and told me to follow him. He took me to a bunch of small trees and demonstrated what was needed to be done to fell a tree. Then it was my turn; I didn't really know what I was doing but he kept me right and down came the small tree. He then said, ‘Get the rest of them down, I will be over here if you need me’. So there I was, in the middle of a woodland, with a chainsaw and no real clue of what I was doing.”
“It was a steep learning curve. Nevertheless, I cracked on and down came the bunch of small trees. By this time, the tractor driver was back and saw me felling the last of the trees. He told me I didn't do too badly for a beginner but if I wanted to continue, I must go and get my tree felling tickets. So there my journey started on the road to EDC.”
Callum was already developing the skills and experience needed to work in arboriculture, but he now needed to acquire the qualifications to access a career in the industry.
“EDC was the closest college to me, and I knew some people who already attended and received good recommendations for them. Initially though my only intentions were to get my tree felling tickets and go and work in the forestry industry. When I started the course though, tree climbing was a big part of it which I had never seen, never mind thought about doing it myself.”
After completing his college course, Callum spent a number of years working in industry both in the North East and in Edinburgh. Throughout that time, he kept in close contact with the college, and was soon told about a job opportunity back at Houghall.
“When I was informed that the job at the college was available, I was very excited for it as throughout my career I had apprentices and less experienced people working with me, so I was always teaching and giving hints and tips to help them. So, when I heard I could come and teach at the college I was very excited.”
Looking back now, Callum has only positive words to say about his experience at East Durham College, both as a staff member and a student.
“My favourite part of teaching in the arb team is seeing our students grow within the industry, from day one where they are struggling and having doubts to the end of the course when they are a fully-capable arborist. The relationship we have with the students is fantastic; we’re helping a lot of them face their fears and grow as a person and so, when we see our students out running businesses and being very successful not only in the UK but around the world it makes us as an arb department very proud.”
“I have to say the thing I like the most about the arb department is that the lecturers really care about the students. It's not just about getting them a pass, it’s about getting them ready for industry, and making sure they are fully equipped for their full career. As an ex-student I can’t thank the lecturers enough for everything they have done for me to help get me where I am now. Without them and their encouragement, professionalism, and helpfulness I would not be here, teaching and educating the next generation.”