Meet Wolfson’s new Head Porter

Image of Andrew Fowles

Wolfson College is delighted to announce Andrew Fowles as its new Head Porter.

Image of Andrew Fowles

Andrew joined Wolfson as Porter in 2013, graduating to Senior Porter in 2017. He will take over the role from current Head Porter, Mike Wignall, on 1st April 2021. 

Jo Cheffins, Wolfson College Bursar, said: “Andrew has made a significant contribution to the College over the last seven years, and we’re thrilled that he’s stepping up to lead the Porter’s Lodge. He steps into big shoes, but he has the personality, skills and experience to further develop the friendly and very talented Porter’s Lodge team that we all love here at Wolfson.”

Prior to joining Wolfson, Andrew worked for the NHS in the UK and Australia, where he first specialised in Accident and Emergency and Cardiothoracic Services, and later in the development and management of local health care services.  

We spoke to Andrew about his new appointment, the essence of being a Porter, and his dream of lying in a rooftop pool in Singapore when the pandemic is over.    

Congratulations, Andrew. You’re not the first Head Porter in the history of your family, are you? 

That’s right, my grandfather was Head Porter at Emmanuel College in the 1950s. I remember his stories and imagine being a Cambridge Porter was very different from today. 

What is the role of a College Porter today? 

These days we’re responsible, in partnership with other departments, for the safety and security of College members, visitors and premises. We also deliver 'front of house' services for the College. Almost everyone coming into College comes to the Porters' Lodge first. It’s a huge responsibility, but one that we relish. We have an excellent team, from a variety of professional backgrounds. Their individual skills and experiences combine to provide a high-quality resource at the very forefront of the College. They all have the ability to quickly assess the needs of the person standing in front of them and adopt an approach that is best suited to the person and situation. It is a key component of the job and a rare and highly valuable skill. 

Do Porters need specialist training to have such wide-ranging responsibility? 

Yes, there’s an extensive education and training programme for Porters, covering things like First Aid, Mental Health, Equality and Diversity, Unconscious Bias, Fire, Terrorism, and Manual Handling.

There’s a particularly friendly vibe about Wolfson’s Porters’ Lodge, isn’t there?

Yes. When I started, the Bursar at the time told me his aim was to have the friendliest Porters' Lodge in the University and it's an ambition that I still share.

How has life in the Lodge been tested by the pandemic over the last year? 

Being a Porter during the pandemic has been challenging for everyone. Understandably, anxiety levels have been high at times as people have come to terms with the alarming events going on around them. Despite this, the team has continued to function extremely well and has provided high-quality services throughout. Of course, it has been difficult to build the strong relationships that Porters quickly develop with new students and College visitors in this new context. Face masks and limited contact have clearly affected their ability to do this, which has been disappointing for the team who set themselves such high standards. We were very fortunate to have the Porters' Lodge refurbished during the summer, however: the whole process of de-camping to temporary premises, during a spell of particularly good weather, before returning to our lovely new home provided a welcome distraction from the pandemic.

You step into the shoes of long-serving Head Porter, Mike Wignall. What did you pick up from Mike?

During my time as Senior Porter, I have been fortunate to enjoy friendship and excellent mentorship skills from Mike. He’s helped me gain an understanding of the team leadership skills required to be Head Porter. He has also taught me about the College strategic plans and the opportunities and challenges they may present for the Porters' Lodge. I shall be very sorry to see Mike go, but I’m also excited about the opportunity this has given me. It will be a challenge to keep team spirits up during the rest of the pandemic and it will be a challenge to lead the team as we adapt and change in response to future developments in college. I am looking forward to both challenges.

Do you have much contact with Porters in other Colleges? Is there a Porter’s Facebook Group?!

There is a Head Porter's University-wide group that I will be part of. It’s been on hold during the pandemic, but I’m interested in developing closer ties with the Head Porters that are geographically close to Wolfson with a view to looking at areas where it might be useful to work together, and for the sharing of good practice (maybe an occasional beer after work too!).

What keeps you interested away from the Porters’ Lodge? What are your passions?  

I live in central Cambridge with my family, including two unruly rescue dogs. My wife is a Nurse Consultant at Royal Papworth NHS Trust. My daughter is an artist, currently studying at the University of Western Australia in Perth. My son is a physics graduate, planning to undertake an MSc, following extensive travel adventures. We all have the travel bug. My wife often travels with her job and we try to get away together as often as we can. 

What are some of your favourite travel adventures? 

Recent highlights have included hiking high above the Cinque Terre and relaxing in the Hammam Al Andalus in Granada. Driving the perimeter of Australia, drifting over the Great Barrier Reef in a glass bottomed boat, standing on top of Table Top mountain in Cape Town, and flying over Vancouver in a seaplane have been some of my favourite adventures so far. We are both keen swimmers and spend much of the summer in the wonderful lido on Jesus Green. We have also enjoyed the harbourside pool in Monaco and the infinity pool at the Shard. 

Lockdown must be particularly challenging for a family of adventurers. Have you got somewhere on the list for when travel is possible again?

Next on the list is the rooftop pool at the Marina Bay Sands Hotel in Singapore.

What are you doing in the meantime? 

I have a passion for art and cooking, so that keeps me busy. I will always remember sharing a bottle of wine with my wife on the roof of the museum of modern art in New York watching the sun go down. A couple of years ago, I went with a good friend to the Gugenheim in Bilbao and then on to sample the Pintxos in San Sebastian, which combined the very best of both and I highly recommend!