Reaseheath alumni shares highlights of career in the dairy industry

Written by Colin Clarke who studied Dairy Technology at Reaseheath in 1968 – 70 (pictured above with his classmates)

I think that 1968 was probably the time when the dairy industry in the UK was at its peak. I started working for the MMB in 1967 at their Kendal Creamery in Cumbria and at that time the MMB had in the region of 40 manufacturing creameries/dairies.

Forty years later, the MMB no longer existed and Dairy Crest had less than 12 manufacturing sites. Ten years after that, in 2018, Dairy Crest no longer existed and the MMB has been recreated many times by regional milk buying companies.

After becoming a Trainee Manager with the MMB, I attended interviews with senior management at Thames Ditton and was finally accepted for the Reaseheath sandwich course starting in 1968. 

As a farmer’s son from wild Westmoreland (now Cumbria) I had rarely set foot out of the Lake District and was suddenly packing my bags to go down to Nantwich to start a new education at Reaseheath. 

I was to be joined by three other MMB trainees from various parts of the country as well as many other people from Unigate, Express Foods as well as a number of smaller dairy companies.

The major difference between these trainees at Reaseheath and most other young people attending universities was that we were being paid to learn and came out of our course with no debts (2020 student debts anywhere from £20k to £50k).

There were many very memorable things from what was some of the best years of my life. Obviously all the learning and weekly exams was very useful but the social life was so good that I still don’t dare repeat many of the things we got up to. This was the time to work hard and play even harder. My second night at Reaseheath was spent in the back of a mini-pickup being shown the eight halls of residence at Crewe Teachers Training College – 1,000ish girls and a party every week in one of the halls.

The statistics of students who lived in the student accommodation who went on to marry girls from Crewe Teachers Training would make for good reading – I married someone from that College who was a farmer’s daughter from Hawes in North Yorkshire which was 20 miles for the farm I was born on – small world or what?

There are many highlights to my life / career which would not have happened if not for my time at Reaseheath. Marrying the love of my life being number one. 

My career with the MMB lasted for 26 years through the best times the dairy industry has had. I started as a Supervisor in Felin Fach in mid Wales and then moved about 11 times as I progressed up the management ladder until achieving the goal of Creamery Manager at the most advanced cheese creamery in the UK (the purpose of the MMB sending us to Reaseheath was to find their Creamery Managers of the future.)

At the age of 35 after achieving my original goal I decided that there must be something else I could do. To cut a long story short I transferred from Senior Creamery Management to middle management in sales and became a National Account Manager for Dairy Crest (MMB had become redundant and Dairy Crest was the commercial arm.) After a number of moves I was appointed Sales Director of Dairy Crest consumer and eventually accepted that a move to Thames Ditton would have to be, even though I had been a country boy for most of my life.

After a few years I decided to move into General Management and took on the role of managing a stand-alone milk bottling business (£50M t/o) in East Anglia (owned by Dairy Crest). This is the point at which the dairy industry started to close many of its manufacturing sites around the 1980s. I eventually closed the group I had joined and along with many others was made redundant.

Another career became possible with Britvic Soft Drinks as Sales Director which I did for three years before moving to become Commercial Director for an Irish Co-operative called Dairy Gold.

Following five years with Dairy Gold I retired early. After 12 months I realised that it was too early for retirement and went back to work for a Government funded operation called Tastes of Anglia – one of seven groups across the country whose role was to help small food businesses with their sales and marketing. The job was to turn the group from public funding to stand alone commercial success. I’m pleased to say after seven years this was achieved and I then progressively retired over a two-year timeframe at the age of 60.

There were about 25 Dairy Technology students who were at Reaseheath at the same time as myself and we have maintained our contact with many of them over the last 50 years with reunions every few years. The last was our 50-year anniversary in 2018 and we met (about 18 of us) at Reaseheath during the summer holidays – most of us stayed overnight at the college.

Reaseheath was therefore the starting point for many key things in my life; meeting and marrying my wife, moving house about 11 times through my career, seeing many parts of the world for business purposes, meeting the Queen twice over my working life and finally being able to enjoy my family during retirement (a daughter in New Zealand with two grandchildren and a son much closer to me in Suffolk with one new granddaughter).

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