Nestled by woodland just outside Stafford is the purpose built training centre of Countryside Training & Tree Management Ltd
Founded and run by Jackie and Alan Stephens, the business is a Lantra training provider, and organises NPTC City and Guilds assessments for forestry and arboriculture. After several attempts to find a gap in Jackie's busy schedule, I was finally pleased to speak to her about their business, and the diverse range of services that they offer.
A hive of activity, the training centre means that Jackie and Alan can run everything from one place: "We've got all the facilities on site, so we don't have to travel to do anything. We do all land based courses such as tractors, mowers, strimmer and brush cutters, as well as all the different horticultural training courses and forestry. We are Arb Approved contractors, so we've got a tree surgery gang that go out and do the Arb work as well," Jackie tells me. The tree surgery work is headed up by Operations Manager Darren Allen, and you only need to read the reviews online to see that the team do an outstanding job.
The business has continued to develop and grow from when Alan started as a freelance NPTC and Lantra instructor and assessor, working with a multitude of people before setting up Countryside Training with Jackie in November 2003. "Then in 2011 we met somebody who offered to build us the training centre and when they built it for us, we moved in. That's it basically, we've literally carried on from there," Jackie says.
Jackie mans the office, while the others pop in and out, "It's me that everybody has first contact with. I'm basically an accounts technician, I went and got a qualification and I did the accounts, but now I run all the training side of it so I book all the courses etc. I also completed an IOSH qualification so I run the health and safety side of it all."
The chainsaw courses carried out at the centre are the most popular, "we try and run those courses on a regular basis because that is what we do and what we specialise in," Jackie tells me, "Everything else is as and when people require it. We do quite a bit of work for councils and we've done some work for the forestry commission. It is mainly the local councils that we deal with, and we do a lot of training for Joe Public. We run a lot of courses where we put the dates out and then we get individuals who want to change their career. We do try and run regular courses here but sometimes the instructors are working elsewhere. But at least twice a month we try and get a chainsaw course in, or brush cutters, hedge trimmers, wood chippers, and things like that."
Jackie and Alan have a good relationship with Groundsman Training, and make sure to send pesticide training enquiries in the company's direction. This is reciprocated by Groundsman Training, who encourage customers looking for courses in arboriculture to contact Jackie. "We ran the pesticide training at a loss, so if we get any enquiries, we send them over to Groundsman Training."
The resourceful couple don't waste a thing at the site, "We are ARB approved contractors and we fetch lots of wood back, so we thought we'd sell that. And we sell woodchip that we produce, as well as producing our own charcoal. So everything that comes back into the yard is recycled and goes out a different way."
As well as the business, Jackie has many hobbies that keep her busy, "I keep bees, and sell honey and homemade liqueurs. I do wool spinning because we've got a small holding where we keep sheep, pigs, and chickens, and we sell all our produce from that. We also have eleven dogs which we take beating and picking up during the season. It's never ending really."
I asked Jackie whether there were any issues she came up against with the training work, "I don't think people realise that they have got to be trained for the piece of equipment that they use. We had a few people in recently and one worked for Network Rail. He was quite proud of the fact that he's never had a chainsaw ticket but he works under the Network Rail flag. I said to him, at the end of the day, even if you pay insurance, or you work under their insurance, you're still not insured, because if you haven't got the ticket to use it, you're not insured to use it. That's one of my biggest gripes with people because they think that they are above the law, and when, like me, you get all the notices from HSE telling you about the fines that can be issued, sometimes I just wish I could post those on so that they get the picture."
After our chat, I leave Jackie to continue with yet another busy day, feeling inspired to do more with my free time, and looking forward to reassuring the Groundsman Training team in my office that they aren't the only ones who get frustrated at those in the industry that like to argue against the importance of training and certification.
Book a course with Countryside Training via their website: countrysidetrainingltd.co.uk.