We’re back with another Keble People update, where we introduce some of our fantastic team members. Ade has been working at Keble for 32 years and absolutely loves his job! Managing a team of dedicated Grounds Staff and Garden Assistants, he looks after the all the grounds and Quads, The H B Allen Centre and the Sports Ground. Ade and his team are a fundamental part of Keble operations, helping the College look its best, supporting events and providing ongoing grounds maintenance.
Q1: How did you get into this career?
When I left school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. I remember my Teachers and the Career Master telling me that I was always looking out of the window, so it was obvious I’d rather be outside than inside. I knew I didn’t want to go back to school, so in the summer when I saw an advert in the paper for a Trainee Gardener/Groundsman at Oxford City Council, I applied and was fortunate enough to get the job. They sent me to College and because I enjoyed what I was learning, instead of failing like I had done at school, I passed everything with flying colours. I stayed at the Council for nine years before I started looking for a fresh challenge, particularly specialising in sports turf. My father advised that Keble College was looking for a Grounds Manager, so I applied and was lucky enough to be offered the position. I started in March 1990 and fell in love with the grounds. I’ve now been here for 32 years!
Q2: What activities do you complete in a typical day?
That’s a hard question as every day is different! With gardening, it doesn’t stop at 5pm when I go home and it doesn’t start at 9am in the morning – it’s 24/7. Our days can be vary depending on the seasons, as well as what is happening at the College that day. Our activities are very weather dependent so when I get up on the morning, the first thing I do is check the weather. I get in about an hour before the rest of the team, so I go to my office and plan activities for the Groundsmen at the Sports Ground, as well as the rest of the team and myself at the College.
Q3: How do you prepare for conferences and events at Keble?
First and foremost, it’s all about presentation. We want the College to look the best it can 365 days a year, so we maintain the grounds, water the plants and keep the borders tidy all year round. We’ll then plan extra activity around events to make sure our iconic College looks perfect. Depending on the event, we normally start prepping the grounds a week to 10 days before. Some of the team will be tasked with preparing the lawns, while the other Gardeners prepare the borders that surround the Quads. We’ll work collectively as a team to pull everything together, giving the grounds that ‘wow factor’ for the start of the event.
Q4: What has been your biggest challenge at Keble?
In 2015, we decided to completely re-turf our Liddon Quad. I managed the project and it was a major operation that took several weeks to complete. It was so rewarding as it looked absolutely fabulous when it was complete. However, our success was short-lived as we had a Crane Fly infestation. The Crane Fly got into the turf and started eating away at the roots. Once they’d laid their eggs in the lawn, I knew it was going to die. I had to basically watch the lawn die in front of my eyes before I could work out how we were going to get it back. We had to start by renovating the whole lawn – raking all of the dead grass up which made it look like bare soil. Then we had to re-seed it and play the waiting game for it to start growing back. It was a tense time as it usually takes about four weeks, but the weather conditions were quite cold and it took closer to seven or eight weeks to come back. Luckily, once it reappeared, the grass grew quite quickly, so within four weeks after that we were mowing again.
Q5: What is the most satisfying project you’ve completed?
I was tasked with the landscaping of our new building, the H B Allen Centre which opened in 2019. It was basically a blank canvas and once the building was complete, our team was tasked with planting the borders and laying the lawn in the middle of the Quad. We used an external company for support as it was such a big project with many areas being built from the ground up. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done as I’ve never completed anything from scratch like that before, but with the support of the landscaping company, we managed to get everything ready in time for the launch and it all looked fantastic.
Q6: What is your favourite thing about working at Keble?
My favourite thing is the people. I’m lucky to have the support of a great team and the culture here is excellent. Because I’m working outside and I’m visible, I also get to know lots of students. I have a good rapport with them and get to know them in the first year, right up until they leave. Some of them even keep in touch for years afterwards! I also enjoy meeting our conference guests and B&B guests in the summer. They’re always interested in gardening and will take the time to speak to us about what we do. Most people have a garden or enjoy gardening, so I’m always on hand to give handy tips and advice.
Q7: What is your favourite Quad?
My favourite is the Liddon Quad, our main Quad at Keble College. It’s probably the Quad that I spend most of my time in and it’s the Quad that most people see when they first enter the College. It features a beautiful sunken lawn and it’s the Quad where most of our outside events take place. It really has the wow factor! Obviously being a Manager, I have to spend more time than I’d like in the office, but given the chance, I’ll always be outside in the Liddon Quad first.
To discover more about Keble College and its unique event opportunities, contact the Conference and Events Team here and we’ll be in touch shortly.