'Sprucing' Pete Phillips
I invited the ‘Town Sprucer’ for a cuppa and a chat and he suggested we meet at Sunflower House, the new Folkestone Community Centre currently being renovated.
What that actually turns out to mean is that I can have a chat with the man himself, Pete, but he will probably carrying on working.
What started as an initiative to employ Pete to ‘Spruce’ up the town has resulted in him being run off his feet and more in demand than ever.
Peter Phillips moved to Folkestone 28-years-ago, born in North Shields in Tynemouth he has then pretty much lived all over until settling here in the town after visiting his brother.
Not only has Pete lived all over the South East but he has worked in so many different jobs it must have prepared him for his current role, which changes constantly depending on what work is needed around the town.
Working seven miles out underground in a coal mine, Pete transported materials to the coal face and loved the job, but after two years he left, before the now infamous miners strike.
“The Unions had so much power then, it was almost impossible to get sacked and it did need a balance of power. But when Maragaret Thatcher came in it went too much the other way, including moving to a European shift pattern that saw people working 12 hour shifts.”
Varied does not quite do justice to Pete’s previous employment. Ice-Cream man, to painting Type 42 Destroyer boats, to being a newspaper packer and delivering them out to shops, even during the storms in ‘87: “I drove through that storm and at one point the van was driving on two wheels”.
As a full-time single parent, Pete was un-employed for ten years and, what he terms as ‘stuck in a rut’. It was volunteering and creating art in his own garden that started changing Pete’s fortunes.
It would turn out to be a stroke of serendipity when Pete met Bradstone resident, David Taylor, for the first time when he was out cycling and then volunteering at the Warren.
Pete became involved with the work of the Bradstone Association and when David visited family in the States and came across a ‘Sprucer’, the idea was born and Pete was well and truly out of the rut he had found himself in.
Local Citroen dealer Wilmoths donated a van (Pete gets a new model donated again from Wilmoths in September) and with the support from John Barber he is now a popular face in town, re-painting buildings, fixing signs and paving and clearing litter to name but a few.
To say that a ‘Town Sprucer’ is not needed could not be further from the truth. Pete is constantly in demand. Although he is now given some financial support from various sources, including the Town Council, it’s not enough to cover the work he is doing.
“More than that, I want us to be able to employ other people, who are in the same situation I found myself in, un-employed and stuck in a rut. There is so much work that needs to be done it would be great to take someone on but we just don’t have the money to pay anyone.”
Volunteering became a stepping stone for Pete and now? What’s the best part of his job? “The best thing is the variety and meeting new people.”