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MGAC Impacts: Tom Kirkham on Giving Back to Brighton, Ocean Office Views, and the Next Big Wine Region


Tom skiing in La Clusaz, France with his family.

The Impact Blog is a spotlight series that highlights and celebrates the diverse employees that make MGAC tick. Beyond their day-to-day schedules, we want to know how they have a greater impact on their colleagues, their company, and the communities in which they live and work. We want to know what makes them get out of bed in the morning, what led them to their current role, and what they hope their lasting impact will be. 

Today, we get to know Tom Kirkham, Associate at MGAC.

MGAC: Hello and welcome to the Impact Blog, Tom!

Tom Kirkham (TK): Hi, good to be here!

MGAC: What is your role here at MGAC?

TK: I’m an Associate Cost Consultant, or Quantity Surveyor, in our Brighton office. I work with different members of our team to deliver projects for clients across multiple sectors. We are involved from the start with the budget through to the finished product.

MGAC: When did you first join MGAC?

TK: I first joined in 2018. So, it has been six years now!

MGAC: Wow and what led you to MGAC?

TK: I studied construction management and surveying at the University of Reading and then went on to work for a major global consultancy in London. I gained a lot of experience there. While still in London, I worked on a £1.2B project at Heathrow Airport. Then, with the same company, I moved to Saudi Arabia to work on the King Abdullah Sports Stadium project in Jeddah. That was an amazing experience. Eventually, though, I decided to move back home to Brighton to have a family, and that’s when I joined MGAC.

MGAC: Did you always see yourself ending up in this industry?

TK: No, I initially wanted to be a fighter pilot (the Tom Cruise in Top Gun influence). When that didn’t quite materialize… I decided on construction. My granddad owned a construction contractor business, and I was always good with math, problem-solving, and that sort of thing. So, I chose that path.

MGAC: What might that aspiring fighter pilot think about your role today?

TK: Probably that it’s a little less interesting than the fighter pilot role! But I would see that it fits my personality and desire for an ever-changing landscape and day-to-day. There’s such a diversified array of work, there are so many people to meet, and no day is the same. Beyond the fighter pilot fixation, I was also big into Lego growing up, as I loved building and creating things. Now, my kids are actually at the Lego age, so I’m rediscovering that childhood interest, I suppose!

MGAC: How old are your kids?

TK: I’ve got a seven-year-old little girl, Winnie, and a four-year-old little boy, Alfred.

MGAC: Busy ages!

TK: Yes! Winnie’s very good, the usual first-kid type. Good at school, brilliant, and generally an angel. Then Alfred has been a whirlwind! A total handful who keeps us on our toes.

MGAC: All about balance. How does working in Brighton compare to London and Jeddah?

TK: The Brighton area is not a massive place, so you really see how your projects are benefiting the people around you. You can see them improve the look and feel of the area and know that you’re actively improving it for the next generation—your own kids and those around you. That’s something to be proud of.

MGAC: Speaking of projects, what are you working on at the moment?

TK: I have an array: One is with Nyetimber, a winery here. We are helping them expand their storage facilities and cold store for keeping all the English sparkling wine chilled and preserved. It needs to be 12 degrees centigrade, for instance, so that’s been an interesting and precise project. It’s coming to a close now and it has been extremely rewaring to see that entire industry grow with several winery projects along the south coast. I also recently finished working on Preston Barracks and completing final landscaping and roadworks. I’ve got a couple of additional education projects in Broadstairs with East Kent Colleges Group, doing some extensions and refurbishments. There are some interesting components there: We have a motor vehicle workshop where students can learn in a working setting. There is also a design technology woodworking carpentry extension to teach students how to be future carpenters. Lastly, I’m working on a flood wall in Shoreham. That has been a long process and, as you can imagine, requires an immense amount of testing.

MGAC: Lots of variety!

TK: Definitely. It’s a good mix with different benefits from each. The winery projects are always great. As a region, we’re getting very into wine now and developing opinions on different small wineries. We’re starting to sound a bit French, really! At the same time, education work is always so rewarding. And the flood wall work is certainly teaching me a lot about flood dynamics.

MGAC: Working in many different industries must call for constant learning.

TK: Absolutely. This is an industry that keeps you learning as you work with experts in their various fields. At the winery, an expert winemaker comes along to some of the meetings and the conversation gets very technical about the handling of the wine. Even in a standard design team for any project, you have such different people on the team. Different personalities and expertise. You have people who have artsy backgrounds, people who come from engineering backgrounds, and cost backgrounds. All these people see the world in very different ways, so you are constantly learning from each other.

MGAC: Of the many projects you’ve had a hand in during your time with the firm, what is one you are particularly proud of?

TK: The project that I’m probably most proud of at the moment is Preston Barracks and the Central Research Laboratory here in Brighton; that has had a real impact on the area. It’s opposite the University, it was an area that hadn’t ever seen much investment. Working with a developer who wanted to invest in that area in a big way was exciting. Now, six years later, it has transformed. There are a lot more students. People are spending money that’s going into the local economy. It’s truly an area that was forgotten and now is thriving. That’s really something to be proud of.

MGAC: Absolutely! More broadly, what at MGAC has had an impact on you?

TK: I came from a job where I was working on big schemes: huge multi-billion dollar or billion-pound schemes in big cities. The projects were impressive, but I was a small cog in a massive machine. In my role now, here in Brighton, I’ve found that I am a key team player. I am often the one orchestrating all parties: the client, the architect, the engineers—whoever is involved in driving the project to an end goal. Critical decisions are being made by me. That’s impactful and has really grown me as a person. Here, I’m a huge cog in this machine.

MGAC: Nothing like finding the right fit! While every day might be a little different, what does a perfect workday look like for you?

TK: I enjoy getting in the car and driving out to a scheme and meeting people on-site. Having a walk around doing valuations and seeing how things are going. Understanding any issues we can fix from a management side. And then, coming back into the office. The Brighton office is beautiful, especially in the spring and summer. We have views of the ocean, and our balconies make a great spot for lunch. We can sit there with our picnics and have a chat and catch up as a team, before getting some things done in the afternoon. At the end of the day, I can breathe a sigh of relief that I’ve finished my tick list and can go home to the family and have dinner. That would be a good day!

MGAC: A picnic lunch, delightful!

TK: It is! We’ve really got some great views here. You can see Brighton i360, a past project, from our office. You can see out to the sea and the North Laine which are a famous, very British, part of Brighton where all the little individual boutique shops are with lots of buzzy cafés and pubs.

MGAC: Before arriving at the office, do you have a routine for beginning the day on the right foot?

TK: Yes, with green tea. Additionally—and this might sound dull and old man-ish—the Today programme on Radio 4. I like to listen to that to get the news of the day. Drink my tea, jump in the car, and listen to the radio. Then, I’m ready to crack on. 

MGAC: On the flipside, how do you wind down after a busy one?

TK: Usually playing sports. At the moment I am injured, which is annoying! When I’m not, I will play football with the dads in the village. I also like playing the guitar. I’m sort of self-teaching at the moment, which is going well. It’s keeping me busy with this injury. I’ve been told by physio friends that I really need to get into Pilates and yoga, so I recently started doing YouTube videos on Pilates and yoga. I’m finding that I’m very inflexible and not very good at it at all!

MGAC: Suppose that’s why they call yoga a practice!

TK: I guess so!

MGAC: What gives you energy to keep up with all of your hobbies, being a dad, and working?

TK: The right food for the day. Not too many biscuits! Our previous office manager used to buy an inordinate amount of biscuits and we’ve recently said as an office, we need to cut that back! And then I do try to keep well exercised and try to keep the stress away as best I can by reading most nights.

MGAC: Do you have a book you’d like to recommend?

FB: It sounds random, but it’s called Pig Wrestling by Pete Lindsay and Mark Bawden. It’s based on a fabled story and is really about solving problems. I picked it up in the library and found it to be a very interesting book!

MGAC: Great pick. Now, are you ready for some rapid-fire questions?

TK: Yes!

MGAC: You’re starting the workday. What’s the first thing you do?

TK: Cup of green tea!

MGAC: And the last thing? 

TK: Say goodbye to everyone, pack up my things, and close my laptop.

MGAC: What’s the first item on your list right now?

TK: Get a contract sorted for a demolition project.

MGAC: What’s the most interesting thing we might find on your desk or in your work bag?

TK: Let’s see…what is supporting my large computer screen is a copy of The Noble Rot Book: Wine from Another Galaxy. That’s another good book recommendation! 

MGAC: What can you not get through the workday without?

TK: My iPhone.

MGAC: The most-used app on your phone? 

TK: BBC Sport.

MGAC: What’s your go-to workday lunch lately?

TK: I love going to the independent boutique cafés around Brighton, and one of my favourites at the moment has falafel wraps with loads of salad and hummus and spicy sauce.

MGAC: Describe your job in five words or less.

TK: People. Diversity. Outside thinking. Calculator.

MGAC: What’s your biggest work goal right for the year ahead?

TK: Do my part to keep everybody in the office happy and motivated. Delivering really good work. Achieving our targets.

MGAC: What are you known for around the office?

TK: My approachable, friendly nature. My ginger beard. And, just generally trying to be there for people as best I can.

MGAC: What’s something your colleagues don’t know about you?

TK: I qualified as a ski instructor when I was 20 years old in Canada. But I’ve not had too much use for it in the UK!

MGAC: What would your dream project look like?

TK: I missed an opportunity to go to Qatar when I was about 25—back when it wasn’t as built up and was a real construction site. I think now I’d have loved to have said yes and worked on something like the Burj Khalifa. I think the dream project would be something like that; something that really stands out. However, I’d also love to build my own home and manage that entire process to create something unique to my family’s needs.

MGAC: Where would we find you if you’re not at work?

TK: Socialising with friends. Sometimes, having a drink and meal down at the pub. Watching some football on the TV at home. Out walking and spending time with family.

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