Barry Wood (BSc Engineering, 1974) – 50 years a City man and counting

Ahead of the 50th anniversary reunion of the BSc Civil Engineering class of 1974 in July, we spoke to organiser Barry Wood (BSc Engineering, 1974). During our conversation he reflected on his student days at City, his career and his experience as a Visiting Lecturer at City since 2008.


What motivated you to organise the 50th anniversary reunion of the BSc Civil Engineering class of 1974?

Of the 45 of us who graduated in December 1974, many have lost touch either with the University or one another, so first and foremost it’s about re-establishing connections. The format of the course that the University offered at that time was both a three-year full-time and a five-year ‘sandwich’ course combining study with practical work experience provided by industrial sponsors, so you’d have half the cohort working in industry for the first semester and the other half at City and then we’d swap round, so it’ll be good to reunite everyone for that reason as well. It’ll also be a real eye-opener for some to see just how dramatically City has changed. I’ve witnessed this change up close in my capacity as a Visiting Lecturer at the University since 2008 but for others… Above all, it’ll be a social get-together among good friends. We have enjoyed several alumni reunions and receptions over the years since our graduation but after 50 years this one will be special!


What were the reasons behind choosing City and the BSc Civil Engineering?

The sandwich course structure made perfect sense for me. I was sponsored by BICC – Balfour Beatty throughout my time at City. During university periods they paid my National Insurance as well as all course-related books.  During our industrial periods each year they provided superb training. We had six months of fairly good money whilst acquiring valuable practical experience on the job. City was my first choice university, but it wasn’t until I contacted Frank Jarvis that I got a real impression of its reputation. He was a civil engineering lecturer and also in charge of admissions.

As for the choice of studies, the first seeds were planted back when I was 14 and at school. At lunch one day I clearly remember the prefect on my table saying that he wanted to become a civil engineer. I had no idea what that involved. I had not even heard of civil engineering before, but once he went into more detail I decided that was something that I would also like to do. I was lucky enough to have a very inspiring teacher, Mr Goman, who taught Engineering Design ‘A’ level and encouraged me to apply to university.

The BSc Civil Engineering class of 1974

What memories do you retain of your City days?

Well, 3 shillings (15p) a pint in Northampton Hall Bar and 21 shillings (£1.05) to see live bands like Fleetwood Mac, Steeleye Span and Barclay James Harvest at the Student Union, for starters! We enjoyed steak pie, chips and beans for lunch at the refectory back then, as opposed to the range of healthy options they now offer. The demographic was very different, as you would imagine, plus the cohort was in the vast majority male. In terms of the programme, we were lucky to have inspiring academics teaching us but my clearest memories were the geology and surveying field courses in Wales, Anglesey, Teesdale and Folkstone – they were great fun as well as being a practical application of what we had been taught in lectures.


Which faculty members inspired you the most?

During our undergraduate days Professor Peter Wolf was Head of the Department of Civil Engineering. He was almost scarily professional but didn’t suffer undergraduate fools gladly, as I remember! My personal tutor was Doctor Mieczyslaw Smolira, an academic who was at the cutting edge of structural analysis of tall structures. He developed the Force Displacement Method and was closely involved with the design and analysis of the NatWest Tower (aka Tower 42), which at the time was the tallest building in London.  Perhaps our most down-to-earth, quietly inspirational lecturer was Doctor Peter Burhouse who taught Structural Engineering. He was a lovely guy who came to some of our previous reunions. In the same mould, but a younger version, was Professor Laurie Boswell who also taught us Structural Engineering back in the day and will hopefully be joining us for our 50th anniversary event.


How did your career evolve post-graduation?

Although I had a good job with BICC-Balfour Beatty to go back to after graduation, I did explore other employment opportunities during our final semester at City, and me and two other alumni were recruited by a major contractor in South Africa. In fact, due to their immediate requirement for site engineers, I didn’t even get to attend my own graduation ceremony! However, on a positive note, I did meet my wife in South Africa and moved back to the UK to get married. I joined an engineering consultancy  to obtain design experience and gained Chartered Engineer status as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

During the peak of offshore engineering in the 1970s and 80s I worked for 10 years in the offshore oil and gas sector on projects in the North Sea, Middle East and India. When the oil price crashed in the late 1980s I joined Biwater, the leading British water and wastewater engineering group. After a period managing rural water projects in Nigeria I moved onto business development and sales, which I consider to be one of the best periods of my whole career with a lot of travelling to Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

In 2000 I decided to join a consultancy run by colleagues from my time in the offshore oil and gas industry. They specialised in the early stage development and gaining consent for major infrastructure projects, in particular railway and tram schemes around the UK, including Docklands Light Railway, Crossrail (now the Elizabeth Line), East London Line (now London Overground) and HS2 from London to Birmingham. For the last three years before I retired I was seconded to Thames Water during the pre-construction stage of the Thames Tideway Tunnel.


What made you turn to lecturing at City?

I was invited to become involved in teaching at City by Professor Kuldeep Virdi. He was instrumental in identifying a gap in the market for an MSc in Construction Management and securing Senate approval for the course. I undertook a review of the syllabus and was able to confirm that it would meet industry requirements.

Although I didn’t consider myself as having the profile from an academic perspective to be able to teach, I knew I could pass on the fruits of my practical and project management experience. Some of our students arrive on the course after graduating from their first degree with little knowledge or experience of real projects and how the construction industry works. In the absence of the sandwich course in combined study and training format that I enjoyed in the 1970s, this is the value that our Construction Management MSc provides. It also provided my firm with the opportunity to connect with up-and-coming young talent and many of our past students have obtained good jobs in the industry as a result of the connections made through industry contacts on the course.

City University is my ‘alma mater’ and I want it to do well. I want the Construction Management course to do well and as a passionate civil engineer I hope to continue to help prepare future professionals aspiring to work in the industry.


How does City today compare to in your student days?

I’m probably now the only alumnus from our 1974 Civil Engineering cohort who is still directly involved with the University and have already seen the changes. I know physically the buildings are the same (although what is now the library used to be the Students Union!) but I’m sure it will be very interesting for my fellow alumni to see.

I’m sure they will notice how the demographic has shifted – much more cosmopolitan and a much healthier gender balance. It was very male dominated during our student days. If you wanted to meet any females, you had to go to teacher training colleges or hospital nursing homes – Guy’s and Bart’s to name but two.

When I was a City student, the Department of Civil Engineering was the biggest individual department at the University, whereas now it is a part of the School of Science and Technology. So yes, a lot of changes and no doubt for the better. However, the 50th anniversary reunion will give us the perfect chance to remember everything that was so good for us as students back in the 70s.