Gary Howcroft, Associate Director in the Wakefield office reminisces as our longest serving employee
I clearly remember the day when I turned up for the interview with John Harris with him peering over his glasses and puffing on a pipe telling me to get to know the Building Regs inside out; little did I know that he knew less than me on that subject. He always came over as a character and not to be messed with, and I think that this attitude still prevails as part of the company ethos even today.
John as always was impatient and asked me to start immediately, luckily for me my employer at the time had found out about the interview (I suspect John) and made me redundant straight away. Eventually after minimal discussions, I started in Wakefield on 1st May 1986. The office was basic, three rooms adjacent to Wakefield Station and a total of six staff. Expansion meant knocking a wall or two down ourselves over a weekend (I am not sure if we ever got paid for this come to think of it).
My first project was B&Q in Bury and I am still working with them to this day. In those days it was with developers such as Marshalls and Consolidated Property Group, today we still work with these clients but now have a formal partnering arrangement with B&Q as well as other retailers that we have picked up over the years.
That first summer with John Harris Design Partnership (as it was called in those days) was an eye opener, projects were dealt with quickly and with no fuss, and I was soon running a long succession of retail schemes at the age of 25. Mike Schorah joined as a year out student during my first summer with the practice and continued part time during his subsequent time on the Diploma course. Indeed we all joined in and helped on his final projects at College, obviously only when John was not around.
When John was in the office; which was maybe once or twice a week, he would come in all guns blazing and god help you if your work was not up to scratch. You were handed an envelope and escorted off the premises forthwith. Mike and I both experienced driving a tearful ex member of staff home car-less. Lawyers would have a field day now.
Work and staff numbers increased and we moved to South Parade and then St. John’s North. In this period we picked up one of the first Aldi appointments in the UK acting as Architects and Project Managers for the Yorkshire region. This started a major expansion which eventually had me and Mike banished to a new office in Newport Pagnell where we spent an interesting year of our working lives setting up a new Aldi region before Gary Humphreys joined and we were able to return to Yorkshire.
Paul Mitchell joined John during this period which contributed to more growth and diversity of projects and further expansion with offices in Manchester and Reading. This brought stability and diversity to the business which has benefited us particularly in these recent difficult times.
I have enjoyed all my time here, as have many others. I am back working with Aldi in the Yorkshire region and still work with B&Q on their refit programme. I am not the only long serving member and some have returned to the fold after years away. There are too many highlights to mention, but fancy cars often feature. I particularly remember being driven by John Harris in his bright red Ferrari down the York Road in Leeds at 140mph. He was as proud as punch with the car and as with many of his preferences; the liking for cars has been inherited by Paul and Mike.
John is still alive and kicking and full of the usual Harris spirit, I am in regular contact but try to keep him more grounded on the cars.
Where have the last 28 years gone?