Recently retired after a forty-five year career, Ian McCutcheon still remembers the day he opened the doors to the Enniskillen Technical college for the first time in 1971. Since then, having been the buildings caretaker across five decades, few people have had a better first-hand experience of how the world of education has evolved.
From the outset, Ian’s role as caretaker held a wide jurisdiction and encompassed nearly all the college’s needs. He says, ‘In terms of responsibility, it went principal then caretaker. You were in charge of the welfare and safety of the building and those in it.’ As such he had to be prepared for whatever the day might throw at him, from driving the bus in the morning to being called late at night to release people who had locked themselves into the building. Ian puts the wide range of other responsibilities he held in the earlier years down to the less health and safety focused era. With no such thing as roles like first aid specialists, much more work was put in the line of the building caretaker, who was expected to be a jack of all trades. Ian says he has countless recollections of health and safety issues, when he was the man that was sent for, most notably when he was asked to quickly take a student to the hospital, and was surprised to find out that the emergency was that the student had gone into labour. Surprise was later followed by relief when they made it to the hospital with minutes to spare.
Memories of the building during the troubles show just how long Ian’s tenure has been. In this time bomb scares sometimes came as often as three times a week, and Ian would be in charge of ensuring that everyone was evacuated and the building was completely empty. The role came with a clear responsibility, and Ian has an obvious affection for the building he managed across five decades when he says, ‘If it had ever come down to it, I would have been the last to leave a sinking ship.’
“Principle, John Agnew, talked for two hours about the computer chip and how it would change the world. He had seen the future, and was sharing it with four hundred students for the first time.”
Fortunately, no such damage ever came, and the only changes Ian describes to the building are positive. He says, ‘it’s the same building now, but I’ve seen every room in it changed and refurbished.’ Likewise there are a few moments that stand out as pivots of change in education. Ian describes how during the late 70’s, then principle, John Agnew talked for two hours about the computer chip and how it would change the world. He had seen the future, and was sharing it with four hundred students for the first time.
Another significant change was of course the development of South West College in 2006. Whereas beforehand everything had been under the one roof, the building was now a campus which was part of a wider community. Ian says, ‘I knew everyone in the college, then I didn’t. I was getting e-mails from people I didn’t know.’
Ian’s retirement has seen him leave as the last of the original member of college staff, and he reflects on a career which he enjoyed, citing his reason for staying so long as, quite simply, never having felt a reason to leave. He talks about the great people he worked with, and the wonderful working relationships he had with the staff around him, including the great team of cleaners, and the bosses he worked for. Yet he maintains that it was always first and foremost about the students. He says, ‘look after the students, because if you didn’t have them you wouldn’t have any of it, wouldn’t have a job.’
If students were the work, they are also the sign of the hard work having paid off across the forty five years Ian spent at the college, and Ian admits he takes pride in seeing the students he met along the way in all walks of life now. ‘You can go anywhere in the world,’ he says, ‘and you will meet people who have come through the South West College.’