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News > Alumni Spotlight > Simon Colbert

Simon Colbert

"St. Julians was great fun. I met many lovely people, and the teachers were great."
Simon Colbert
Simon Colbert

After attending St. Julian's, Simon Colbert pursued his education at the Oratory School and went on to complete a BA degree in Business Studies from Portsmouth University. Initially, he gained experience working in the hotel and catering industry in the USA, followed by working in the UK banking and lending sector, specifically in the UK mortgage market. Later, he obtained a Postgraduate as a mechanical, electrical engineer quantity surveyor from the College of the Estate Management at Reading University. He worked with M&E (mechanical, electrical engineering) companies, where he contributed to upgrading various facilities such as hotels, schools, hospitals, and the London Underground stations. Notably, he played a crucial role in upgrading the major Crossrail intersection of Whitechapel. He went on to become a Commercial Director and Main Board Director in the NHS. During the pandemic, Simon retrained as an Enhanced Work Coach in the Civil Service, assisting people with complex needs.

What was it like attending St. Julian’s?

St. Julians was great fun. I met many lovely people, and the teachers were great. I remember the singing lessons in the Palacio and Mr and Mrs Lawson, who ran the school then. I recall a Swiss teacher who set up an aerial runway in the trees in the wood, which was the playground at that time. We were basically doing advanced Scouts. That was really, really good fun.

Is there a memory you hold dear from St. Julian's?

I was a small kid then, and it was all about friendships. I remember the food was always fantastic. The kitchen served terrific desserts, like arroz doce or chocolate mousse. I also recall having fun playing games with marbles in the playground.
I will tell you of an occasion when, just after the revolution (1974), we were doing an overnight camp at the school grounds and playing British Bulldog in the dark. One of the boys ran into the wrong part of the woods, where a hidden arms cache was protected. Suddenly, we heard shots fired, and one of my friends was hit. Thankfully, it was just a graze. It was a scary night.

Do you keep in touch with your friends from SJS?

Yes. A big group of alumni that attended in the 1970s still keeps in touch. We still have meetings every three years. The next one is in 2024.

Throughout your extensive and diverse career, was there a particular project in which you took special pride?

I was Director of the Estates and Facilities at West Hearts, an NHS Trust that comprised four general hospitals. My role involved looking after all of the facilities. It was a fascinating and challenging job. I was very proud of some of the work we achieved as a team there. We brought in a new catering system from Switzerland which was called Steamplicity. This method involves very accurate portion size cuts of ingredients which are then cooked using a combination of steam and microwave at the point of service at the ward level. This introduced a menu of 25 dishes freshly cooked without preservatives or colouring. It was a revolution in hospital food delivery in the UK. It was a complete transformation that caught on across the UK eventually. We developed a cuisine centre for the whole region, supplying various hospitals.

Can you tell us why you decided to train as a coach later in life?

After the pandemic hit, the construction industry closed. I started to think about my life priorities and the fact that I was making this ridiculous commute to London. I reflected on my working life; I had a wealth of career and experience behind me, from banking, hotel and catering management, construction, and the NHS. How could I use this to give something back and help others? I spent nearly nine months training to be an Enhanced Work Coach. I now work with people with complex needs, often very vulnerable people struggling mentally or physically with their health. They wish to return to work, but it's difficult for them. I help them to do that from the very basics of confidence building to writing a CV to get past computer pre-scanning to developing their own business. In the UK, you need to tailor your CV and bring in the keywords from the vacancy so the interviewer can get to see your application. I support people in their journey back to work. It's all about having empathy and helping people.

What advice would you give to our students wanting to train as coaches?

I would say to them it's an extremely rewarding job to do. If you want to get into that, take your qualifications. Customer service is the first thing. You have got to understand the needs of a customer. Secondly, to obviously qualify as a work coach. It is a very rewarding job, but it does have its moments. I have something called PAM Assist, a personal assistance programme for dealing with traumatic experiences. Some of the individuals I'm dealing with might have serious mental issues. So initially, it can be quite shocking. But with the proper training and support, it is a gratifying job to help somebody who had no hope at all suddenly have their dream realised. It is a fantastic position to be in.

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