After Tim Mackereth completed 22 years of service, he turned to us for support starting up his own blacksmith business.
Fourteen years later, his award-winning company has gone from strength to strength.
I joined the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1980 and trained as a mechanic straight from A-Levels.
Artificer training followed from 1989 to 1991, after which I specialised in armoured infantry and armour, before rising to the rank of Artificer Sergeant Major of the Royal Green Jackets Light Aid Detachment REME by the time I was 35.
My job in the Army saw me travel the world, mostly in Germany because of the Cold War, but I also finished on Loan Service with the Sultan of Brunei for the last three years of my career in the Forces.
Leaving the Forces
I do count myself very lucky because I hugely enjoyed Service life. But when I got to 40 I thought it was time to do something else.
Most of my contemporaries were going into engineering project management in defence procurement, but my idea of hell was commuting day in, day out, wearing a suit.
So I thought of other things and remembered I’d always been interested in blacksmithing.
When I left school I had the perception that there was very little going on in the industry, but by 2001 when I was looking at what I was going to do, the internet had arrived and there was an explosion of information about what was going on in blacksmithing: it was fabulous.
My idea of hell was commuting day in, day out, wearing a suit.
I already had the skills of basic engineering, an awful lot of which were transferable, and I was already competent with all of the equipment that is additional, but also fundamental, to blacksmithing. Hitting the piece of hot metal with a hammer is a comparatively small part of the overall finished product.
So I went on a weekend course and made a poker and thought, “Ah, this is it.”
On the strength of that, we bought and restored the forge, which had been let out and fallen into disrepair, before I enrolled on a year-long blacksmithing course at Warwickshire College near Leamington Spa.
Setting up my business
There was a business module on the blacksmithing course, and because we had already bought the forge by then, I used that module to formulate the business plan, so I had a live example as the project.
At the time, in 2002, the banks were handing money out to all and sundry.
But as a charity, the Legion scrutinised your business plan to a very high level and as a result they had an extraordinary success rate of businesses that survived to pay back their start-up loan.
With that information I thought that if I was going to write a business plan, I wanted to have it scrutinised by someone who knew what they were doing.
We decided right from the outset that we were going to do this and do it properly.
I needed some funding to buy tools and equipment, so I could start accepting projects on day one that would let me make a living straight away.
In the cash-flow forecast it was also identified that we would have needed an overdraft in the early months.
The Legion were so happy with the business plan that they offered us double what we’d asked for to cover the identified overdraft.
A flying start
As it happened, we got off to a much better start than we’d anticipated and didn’t use the overdraft anyway, so we spent the money on tooling to increase capability, so that we could take on bigger jobs.
I think because it is a charity, people tend to think that the Legion is something that you go to when you’re in need and you’re at rock bottom, rather than it being a support resource in a much more positive sense for all veterans.
The truth is that you can use it in a much more forward-looking way than just getting you out of a hole.
As well as private clients and large restoration projects, since the business got going we have also now produced three pieces at the National Memorial Arboretum.
The first of these was the Commando Veterans’ Association’s memorial, which we made within the first three years of the company starting.
The client for the Commando project was reasonably local, had seen our publicity and knew I was ex-military and now a blacksmith.