Matthew Vatcher is an electrical engineer and an accomplished project and information manager. During his 15-year career, he  has supported major projects and worked in operational environments in sectors including transport and water. His less ‘traditional’ experiences include ventures into the sewers and producing flying theatres. Our virtual interview started with the sewers..
Tell us about the sewers?

I was working in the information management department for Thames Water. One of the teams carried out sewer surveys. Primarily these were ahead of new construction, to ensure the integrity of the sewers would not be damaged by the construction work.

Due to staff leaving, my team was approached to ask if anyone would like to assist them. I already had experience of using breathing apparatus in my work with water treatment chemicals so I decided to give it a try.

What was it like down there?

Most surveys were carried out overnight, when the flow was at its lowest. In the smaller sewers, we would have to crawl on our hands and knees, carrying the survey equipment with us.

They varied from 4’ diameter concrete sewers to the 12’ plus Victorian brick sewers below London.  Generally, we would go down into the sewer from one manhole and survey the line of the sewer as a team of three to another manhole up to 100m down the line. This enabled a 3D model to be developed of the line and depth of the sewer, taking reference pictures along the route.

You have a family history of engineering?

Yes, both my grandparents were involved in engineering –  one leading the development of sonar for submarines in WW2 and the other on the railways. My father’s background was in naval architecture and I had always been interested in engineering and had lots of practical experience growing up.

Your career started at Thames Water as an apprentice? An exciting place to gain your first ‘hands-on’ role?

Yes, I began at Thames Water as an electrical /electronic engineering apprentice – providing technical support to the water treatment works, fault-finding and analysis and condition monitoring on control systems, SCADA and radio networks.

There was lots of knowledge to be gained quickly – not just the engineering and water treatment process knowledge but also the geographical area and location of sites.

I had to learn where they each were and quickly know how to drive between them. It was before sat-nav was widely in use.

Fast forward three years and you had moved into CAD and Information  Management?

I was too vocal as an engineer in critiquing the quality of the technical drawings we had to work with for the water sites. When a vacancy came up within Thames Water to lead the team of CAD technicians producing and managing the drawings I was asked to apply for the role.

My background in engineering provided me with a good technical understanding of the assets and sites that the information related to, so I could read a document or drawing and immediately get a picture in my mind of what they were describing, which was very helpful for understanding the information.

In addition to Thames Water, you’ve gained significant experience with Heathrow? What was it like as a working environment?

Heathrow is a unique and exciting place to work, with work being carried out 24/7. It never sleeps.

You were working there when we went into lockdown?

Yes, I was leading the Information & Data Management on a £1.85 billion Future T2 capital programme.

The programme was growing and getting ready for starting on-site surveys and H&S preparatory work. Then, within a week of lockdown starting, my contract was terminated, and within a few more weeks the programme was stood down and all work stopped. It was a very abrupt end.

How was your lockdown?

My lockdown was probably very different to a lot of people. I started working at the local hospital a week after finishing at Heathrow. Our daughter was working in a care home, and moved to work at the hospital in August, so we were both out working regularly. This meant we weren’t in the situation with all four of us at home every day. It was good being able to get out the house regularly and do something that felt worthwhile but at the same time, with long shifts, I didn’t get to spend a lot of time with the family.

Transition and change was a feature of life for you as you grew up?

Yes, my father was a naval architect. I was born near Bath, then he was posted to the naval dockyards in Dunfermline (near Edinburgh) for three years, then to the British Embassy in Washington DC for three years. Then we went back to Bath for four years at which point he left the MoD. One year in Swindon was followed by 18 months near San Francisco before we settled back in Swindon.

Did you find it easy to settle in at new schools/ in new environments?

Not particularly. Knowing we were only going to be in the US for 18 months made it easier for me to not take school seriously and settle in a bit easier. But returning to the UK six months before starting my GCSEs was very challenging.

You spent four years working in motion simulation?

My father’s company – Dynamic Motion Rides – specialises in motion-system based attractions (known in the industry as “Flying Theatres”). They typically take 2 to 3 years from concept to completion and the projects we have delivered include theming and special effects for a new rollercoaster in Australia and the design development for a new flying theatre attraction at a major park in Orlando.

We also completed a project with a platform for 36 people in a new museum in Washington DC – the Museum of the Bible. All the manufacture and factory testing was carried out in the UK, before the system was taken apart, shipped to Washington and assembled, tested and commissioned in the museum.  This was the first flying theatre of its type in a museum world-wide. It opened in November 2017.

I worked for the company for four years, project managing these multi million-pound projects from concept design through detailed design, manufacturing, installation, commissioning & handover

Any unusual ambitions remaining?

Obtaining a private pilot’s licence is still on my bucket list…I’ll concentrate on settling in at PCSG for now…

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