What it’s like to be a… university porter

Paul Tomlinson talks UB through a day of mail, keys and walkie-talkies at Lancaster University

After studying for a degree in photography, Paul Tomlinson worked for over 30 years in various roles in the professional print and photographic trade, including time spent working in London and Los Angeles. In 2013 he took up a temporary post in the print and photography department at Lancaster University, before a moving on to being a buildings and academics support porter. He has been portering for four years.


Q. What is it about your job that gets you out of bed in the morning?

With the help of my fell terrier demanding his breakfast and early morning trot, getting up in the morning to go to work at a UK top 10 university is easy. Our modern, vibrant and safe campus is an unbeatable working environment.

Q. What is the first thing you do when you get in to work?

My first task of the morning is to unlock the Faraday building that houses the university’s large chemistry and physics department. Then after a quick cup of tea, my colleague Andy and I prepare our seminar rooms and lecture theatres ready for the start of the day’s teaching at 9am.

Q. Who are the two to three people that you talk to every day?

On a daily basis, my fellow porter Andy and the day’s security duty supervisor are the two most important. Our lodge also works closely with the physics and chemistry departments’ storeman, receiving and looking after regular deliveries for our large science departments.

Cheerful, approachable and helpful are the essential qualities of a porter 

Q. What is the best thing about your job?

I particularly like meeting people from all over the world, students and staff. Graduation week in summer is my favourite time, when proud families travel from all four corners of the world to Lancaster University for the graduation ceremonies. 

Q. What is your biggest challenge?

It has to be the challenge of preparing over 30 seminar rooms and 10 lecture theatres, ready for the start of the day’s teaching when they have been left in a dishevelled state.

Q. How did you get into your job?

Having an in-depth knowledge of the geography of the university and how it functions are essential skills for my role here as a departmental porter.

I gained this valuable experience while working for three years in Lancaster University’s print and photography unit, eventually allowing me to move on, in my advancing years, to my current role.

Q. What is it about your personality that makes you suitable for your role?

I’d like to think that students and staff see me as cheerful, approachable and helpful. Essential qualities of a porter.

Q. Which five words sum up your typical day?

Keys, walkie-talkies, students, mail and smiles.

Q. If you weren’t in this role, what would you be?

My grandfather was a Swiss chocolatier, so I would love to learn his skills and open a chocolate shop. I think my wife would fully approve.


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