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Author: The Greenpower Team
Our Vice Chair of Trustees, Stuart Morgan, had a potent first encounter with the Greenpower challenge in 2013. After coming across our stand at Goodwood circuit, Stuart and his wife embarked on setting up a Goblin team with the support of his local primary school.
Stuart joined our Board of Trustees in 2017 and was elected Vice Chair at our 2020 Annual General Meeting. His career has encompassed a wide variety of STEM roles, while most Saturday mornings for the past eight years have been dedicated to Greenpower. We sat down with Stuart to find out what drew him to our challenge, his highlights so far, and the benefits of working on a practical STEM activity for young people.
Stuart, what does your role as Vice Chair of Trustees entail?
As a board, our function is to ensure that Greenpower is a viable operation, that it’s properly governed, and that everything we do goes to support our charitable purpose, which is of course encouraging young people towards STEM careers. As Vice Chair I’m there to support Deborah as Chair. She will call me and bounce ideas off me whenever that’s required, and obviously I’ll be there to deputise at meetings. As a board, we treat ourselves as equals; we have a real trust in one another and we can really challenge each other, and do so in the knowledge that the only thing that matters is what is right for Greenpower and our purpose.
How did you become involved in Greenpower?
Back in 2013, my family and I stumbled across an event at Goodwood; in the paddock area there was a Greenpower stand with a Goblin and an F24 car on display. We ended up chatting to the guys on the stand, and my son would have been nine years old at the time, so he was just the right age to fit in a Goblin car. It sounded like a really exciting project, so my wife, Ali, and I spoke to the Head of our local primary school and suggested it would be a great thing to get involved in. The school gave us their blessing and told us that if we could organise it then they would support us. We did some fundraising to buy a car, as well as helmets and overalls. Before we knew it we had roped in the Premises Officer at the school and had started running a club on Saturday mornings.
Shortly after, we entered our first race at Goodwood in 2014. There were quite a few races in our local area so we were able to become familiar faces to the Greenpower team. At most events I’d end up chatting with Jeremy Way, who was the CEO at the time, and he would discuss ideas with me about things we could do. In October 2017, Jeremy sent me email asking me if I’d attend a trustees’ meeting and consider becoming a trustee, and I did just that.
What drew you to the Greenpower challenge?
It was definitely the hands-on nature of the challenge. I’m a big motorsport fan, and when I saw the Greenpower stand at Goodwood the challenge seemed so accessible for a sport that has a reputation for being quite expensive to get into. I had worked within engineering earlier in my career and I’ve always been quite practical; I like getting my hands dirty, my dad worked in the motor trade, he was always pulling motorbikes to bits and my brother and I would also enjoy taking our cars apart and then putting them back together. I could see that these opportunities drifting away from the younger generation, because things have become so complex. When I open the bonnet of my car, for example, it just looks like a mass of plastic and pipes. Things have marched on and changed, but Greenpower is a grassroots way to get kids into STEM.
Can you tell us more about your career background?
My first job was working for a small firm that designed and built machines that embossed holographic patterns into plastic - a very niche business. I was hired to design the electrical drive systems for these machines initially, and that got me involved with not just electrics, but also mechanical design and a bit of programming. I did that for a few years, and then ended up following one of the directors of the business, who got involved in manufacturing ink for inkjet printers in the mid- to late-90s, when it was really new.
In 2000, I started working for one of the UK’s largest greeting card publishers, and I’ve been there ever since. That’s taken me through a variety of different roles; I started off in reprographics, then moved to product development, then procurement, and now I’m working on more technical projects and process engineering. I’ve finally got ‘engineering’ back in my job description, and it’s really lovely to be doing something technical and using that part of my brain again. There was a twenty-year gap when that wasn’t the case, so when I got involved in setting up and running the Goblin team, it wasn’t only the kids who were benefitting from the experience - it was keeping that part of my mind occupied as well. I think my career shows that STEM can lead you anywhere; during that time maths has underpinned everything I’ve been involved in. I can’t really convey how critical a good grounding in maths has been to the work I’ve done.
How would you pitch Goblins to someone who has never come across the Greenpower challenge?
There’s something that I’ve always said to people when they say to me “Why have you given up so many years of your Saturday mornings to do Greenpower?”. I do it because I get a real sense of satisfaction when I’m standing in the pitlane at the end of the season. In that moment I’ve got my team in front of me, they’re working together as a unit, and they’re out there racing cars on the Goodwood Motor Circuit. They’ve built that car, they understand how it works, they can fix it, they can make it better. They’re ten or eleven-years-old at this time, and before starting the project most of them had never even picked up a spanner or probably wouldn’t know which end of a screwdriver to hold. You can just see this remarkable transformation, not just as individuals, but as a team as well. They’ve picked up practical skills that they will be able to use for the rest of their lives. If you’ve got an understanding of how a simple machine works, it’s very scalable and you can learn to understand how more complex things work.
Then there’s all of the social skills they learn. We’ve had cases where things have gone wrong at an event. There’s one in particular that sticks in my mind, where we were in the semi-final of the sprint race, lined up on the grid, and as our car pushed off, our pusher knocked the key off with his knee and the car just ground to a halt. He stood there distraught, but then quickly picked himself up, turned the key back on, and got the car going. The driver belted it round and we nearly won the race. The pusher came back to the pits in floods of tears, but instantly the entire team crowded around him and assured him that it was okay. It may sound trivial, but learning how to deal with adversity like that is a big deal when you’re ten years old. When things haven’t gone to plan with mechanical failures and on-track issues they always rally around each other.
Why is it important to encourage children of that age to engage in practical learning? What are the benefits?
At the age of 9 to 11 years old, they probably haven’t made many connections with STEM careers unless they have a close relative who works in a related industry. They’re very receptive at that age, but don’t necessarily see practical STEM day-to-day, so I think Greenpower provides them with that first connection. It combines something very familiar to them - cars and motorsport - with things that they’ve only ever seen as school subjects like maths and science. Then there’s the third part of that triangle which is that it’s something they can actually get involved with. It changes the way they think about technology and engineering. Rather than it just being something on a tablet, or about building a bridge across a road or a railway, it shows that STEM can take many forms. I think it’s just a fabulous time in a child’s life for it; they’re just about to head off to secondary school, where they will start deciding how they’re going to shape their future. To give them the opportunity to see what the working world might look like and show them something that they can do within it in a fun, educational and practical way, I think that’s really important at that age.
Why should schools and clubs consider the Greenpower challenge a worthy investment of their time and resources?
I think it’s a pretty easy answer: there is nothing like Greenpower. It is engaging, hands-on, and an enjoyable way of piquing children’s interest in STEM. If you have a group of children – whether in school or an after-school club - who would benefit from working in a team and learning something new in a fun environment, Greenpower is something that they will enjoy. We know from experience that our local community really gets excited about the project. Every time we have a school or village fête, we always get the car out and floods of people come over and talk to us about it, and even offer to sponsor us. I think the project clicks with the children, it clicks with adults who are involved in it, and it clicks with the wider community as well.
Do you have a stand-out moment in your years with your Goblin club?
We took part in our first race at Goodwood in 2014 and turned up like a bunch of wide-eyed rabbits in the headlights wondering if our car would even pass scrutineering! We had no clue what we were doing. Then in 2015, we took part in four local races but right from the start of that season, we started winning trophies. That came as a bit of a surprise to us all because we felt we were still the new kids on the block. Then, at the final event of 2015 at Goodwood, we won a trophy in every race at the biggest meeting of the year, and ended up winning the whole event. Going from nothing at all to having eight kids standing on the top step of the podium at Goodwood just a year later, beating eighty other teams from across the country, it still gives me goosebumps today. It was one of those moments that I know I am never going to forget. My son was on the team then, and I know he won’t forget it either.
Do you think the future looks bright for Greenpower, and how do you see it growing in the next few years?
I do. Looking forwards, we have a real opportunity to expand our reach, not just in the UK but also internationally, and get more children involved. I’ve always said that if any of the kids end up choosing a STEM GCSE or A-Level that they wouldn’t have previously considered, or thinks about becoming an engineer, for example, then my work is done. That’s just us operating within a tiny school with an intake of about twenty children a year in a rural area. Imagine how powerful that could be if we continue to expand and convey that message to more people out there. The future is certainly really bright for us.