I’m Rory and I’ve been involved in the survey profession for 55 years in both the UK and overseas as a photogrammetrist.
I’ve worked for two major aerial survey companies in the UK before going to work in Africa. Formed and run own company in the UK for 32 years from 1974 before taking up the current post in 2006.
Current role: Secretary General of TSA (The UK Land & Hydrographic Survey Association.)
When I went to senior school in 1958, I had no real idea what I wanted to do as a career. At the time I had three passions, all of which still exist today and which I felt might lead to a career. Football, animals and trains! Yes, I was a train spotter as a kid!
However, a couple of years into my studies my life was changed, and my lifelong love of surveying commenced.
So, what changed? We had a maths teacher, Herbert Rowntree, who used to go off at all sorts of tangents when teaching. One day he came in and told us he was going to teach us about practical maths and how it can play a part in our futures. He then introduced us to surveying having purchased an old instrument himself.
We were then taught levelling and traversing and how it fitted into the world at large and my career path was determined at that point. I had already dreamed about travelling and seeing the world and I loved geography, so this new topic fitted in perfectly with my dreams.
On reflection, it was lucky that we started in the summer on our outdoor work as if I had known how cold I might get later in life, I may have continued with my engine driver ambitions. But no, surveying had captured my imagination and my future was sealed.
After completing my “O” levels including Elementary Surveying which no longer exists, I went for an interview to BKS Air Surveys in Leatherhead as a trainee surveyor. As part of the interview process I was taken to the Photogrammetry Department for a stereoscopic eye test. I had never heard of this technique or technology before and was blown away by it. Luckily, my eyesight was excellent, and I was offered a job in the department and started my training in August 1963.
My first job was to assist in establishing some survey control and to carry out verification of an aerial survey produced in the photogrammetric department. My “in house photogrammetry” training then commenced in earnest and my fascination with the technique took flight and continues to this day.
After a period of around four years, BKS moved their operations to Northern Ireland and I, like many others, decided to seek other employment opportunities. At this time, as a new and relatively inexperienced photogrammetrist, the opportunities were fairly limited as there was only a handful of commercial companies offering this rather unique survey service. I did go to the Mapping & Charting Establishment for an interview but when I was told I would need to train for another five years, I declined the offer.
I then went to Meridian Airmaps in Sussex for an interview and was offered a job on the spot and commenced at the offices in Lancing about two weeks later. This was one of my better “life” decisions as I met my wife there and we are still married now some 50 years later.
Meridians taught me a lot about commercial surveying, both good and bad and I enjoyed my two years there, but I had a real desire to travel and broaden my knowledge and experience. Having also recently got married I needed to earn some decent money.
One day I saw an advert for a British Overseas Aid contract in Zambia in the photogrammetry department, and applied for it, in all honesty not expecting to be offered the job. To my surprise I was offered the job and my wife, and I left the UK on 1st November 1969, my birthday as it happens, to begin a new life in Lusaka. I have to say that I learned more about life in the first year in Africa than I had in my previous 23 in the UK. My role was to train both the local staff and produce mapping. My first job being to produce large scale mapping of Livingstone, famous for the Victoria Falls. Five fabulous years ensued working with some wonderful local people and forging many lifelong friendships before I decided that I needed to return to the UK and become my own boss, a decision that I have never regretted and today I am still my own boss.
Our time in Africa has left me with an enduring love of the continent and its people and really emphasised the advantages that being a surveyor has offered me.
My next step can be partly blamed on drink. A colleague from Meridians who had gone to Malawi on a contract, like me, in the photogrammetric department, got slightly inebriated one night and decided to return to the UK and establish a specialist photogrammetry company. We both thought that the technology was neither very widely understood nor utilised and that there was a gap in the market for a company to use the technique for non-aerial survey work. Architecture was an obvious application and so the birth of Photarc Surveys occurred.
We both returned to the UK at the same time with a lot of ideas and great enthusiasm but no business or marketing knowledge. We could have been accused of being naïve I suppose! However, we must have been quite plausible though as we persuaded a finance company to lend us £16000 to buy our first instrument and found an office in Wetherby. We then went off to convert the whole world to the benefits of using this amazing non-intrusive method of survey.
The name Photarc was derived from Photogrammetry in Architecture and it was in this arena of surveying that our reputation was built. Over the years we gained a reputation for innovation and we were pioneers of using photogrammetry for tunnel profiling, low level helicopter surveying and underwater photogrammetry through a subsidiary company that we set up in Aberdeen called Neptune Surveys.
We also worked extensively with the police developing forensic methods using photogrammetry. My love of travel was fully satisfied over my 32 years at Photarc with work being carried out in Australia, Europe, Asia, North and South America and Africa. In fact, the only place we did not work was in the frozen northern and southern tips of the globe.
Photogrammetry is a technology that had made great advances over the previous 20 years or so and I recognised when I was about 50 that I could be left behind technically and decided that by the time I reached 60, I would try something else. Photarc, through me, had been heavily involved with TSA since its inception in 1979, TSA being the only trade body representing the UK survey companies. Over a period of some 12 years. I had served the association as a member of Council, chairman of two committees, the Vice President and then the President for 3 years between 1999 and 2002. As you will have gathered by now I am very passionate about surveying and the role it has to play in modern society.
In 2006, I was offered the opportunity to take over the role of Secretary General for TSA which I accepted without hesitation. This offer fitted in perfectly with my retirement plans from Photarc and so in April 2006, I took on the role with TSA alongside Rachel Tyrrell who had worked for the Shipbuilders & Ship Repairers Association and who had previously operated the secretarial services to TSA. It was agreed that Rachel and I should look for premises somewhere geographically suitable and run TSA from them. At the time, TSA had a membership of almost 100. Today, that figure has increased to over 180 from our HQ in Newark on Trent which now boasts a team of 3 staff.
TSA is run by an elected Council of 12 persons from the Full membership of the Association. My role and that of the secretariat is to carry out the wishes and instructions of the Council. TSA is now a very forward thinking and active association and in recent years has produced a number of guides to assist both clients and members. It has a very well viewed website and offers a number of benefits to members.
Over the last few years, TSA has funded the development of a new Geospatial Apprenticeship and developed a new Level 3 Engineering Survey qualification for surveyors that have no professional or academic qualifications. Perhaps most importantly of all, TSA has taken over the running of the Survey School in Worcester which runs the TSA 2-year surveying course originally written back in 1999. This has ensured that quality training will be available to all future surveyors. Take a look at the website here: www.tsa-uk.org.uk
During my time with TSA I have had the opportunity to meet a number of MPs, which has been a real eye opener. I met Theresa May before she became PM as well as a number of other senior people in Westminster as TSA lobbied Parliament on the importance of both surveying in relation to flood mapping and the construction industry in general. My proudest moment occurred at the opening of the new Ordnance Survey HQ in Southampton when I was part of the welcome group and was introduced to Prince Philip. He thought it was only the OS that undertook surveying in the UK and was surprised to hear about the commercial world of survey and mapping.
Looking back over the 55 years I feel that I have been very lucky and privileged to work in a profession that encompasses travel, technology, real challenges and allows the surveyor to make a genuine contribution to the World. This, all down to an enlightened teacher.
Would I change anything? Not at all and I would strongly recommend a career in surveying to any person that wants to enjoy their working life. I most certainly have!!!