Much emphasis and pressure is put on obtaining qualifications but it appears there is still no substitute for enthusiasm, vigour and a will to win. Paul Kitchen left school at 15 with nothing, but he hadn’t been twiddling his thumbs.
He’d been helping out on a farm since he was nine-years-old and having seen his dad Malcolm repairing cars he soon recognised where he’d like to earn his living.
Today, Paul runs his own agricultural machinery repairs and plant hire business in Owstwick employing seven people, he also buys and sells used farm equipment, buys and renovates property, farms 15 acres of land where he has cattle and sheep, and purchased the Black Horse pub eight years ago in the village of Roos, near Withernsea, where his wife Stephanie has her name over the door. He also operates outside bars for weddings and special events. It’s quite a portfolio for a man who started with a van and little else.
“My dad worked in Fewster’s butcher’s shop in Patrington and we lived above it. He’d also worked on a farm at Keyingham for JW Jackson where my granddad Arthur worked until he retired. I started there when I was nine and stayed until I reached 16, but while I liked driving tractors on the farm it was tinkering with cars that got me started on where I wanted to go. I’ve always enjoyed taking things apart and putting them back together hopefully better than they were before.
“What triggered me off in thinking about running my own business was the daftest thing. My granddad on my mum’s side had some little buildings where I used to repair stuff as a teenager. I remember always banging my head because there really wasn’t that much room and thinking one day I’d love to have a big workshop, somewhere I could also employ others – and not bang my head as often.”
Paul’s first step towards achieving his ambition came within 15 minutes of stepping through the door at a local agricultural machinery dealership.
“Dad got me an interview at Tom and Jim Calvert’s premises in Ottringham that is now part of Ripon Farm Services. My interview was 7.45 that morning and by 8 o’clock I had my overalls on and was an apprentice engineer. I stayed two-and-a-half years before George Cross of Northfield Agricultural Services took me on. I was with them for nearly nine years but I always had visions of working for myself and having others working with me.
“I started out on my own in 1990 with a week’s worth of work. Out of the money I’d earned I bought a big white Ford Transit van and put the rest in the bank. I repaired anything from a wheelbarrow to a tractor and a combine to a digger. I now employ five fitters, including me, and two girls in the office. It’s become a bit of a family concern as the girls are my sister Janine and our daughter Emma. Our two sons Dan and Owen are also in the team. The core of our work is still agricultural machinery repairs, which probably accounts for around 65 per cent of the business, but we’ve always prided ourselves on being able to repair anything that moves or to be able to get it moving again if it’s stopped. We will take on plant and machinery repairs and commercial vehicles from vans to trucks and 4x4s. Mike Fussey joined me 23 years ago as my apprentice having also been employed by Northfield and we have always worked together as a team.”
Wintertime was traditionally the season when farmers brought in their machines for maintenance ready for the new year but now, with a greater reliance on one main tractor or handler being used year round, that’s no longer the same.
“We’re still very busy during winter with tractor and farm kit repairs but other strands such as digger hire, maintenance and general repairs have added to our trade as has welding and fabrication work at this time of year. Last weekend I had to go into Sutton-on-Hull to rescue a tractor that’d broken down on a roundabout. There’s always something that comes up.”
Farming in a small way at Owstwick sees Paul and son Owen with a flock of 30 ewes and usually around 15-20 cattle bought as calves at Dunswell Mart taken through to 18-20 months.
“We’ve sold out of cattle at the minute but we’ll be going back into them again soon. Dan also helps out.”
The acquisition of The Black Horse came when the previous couple were looking to quit as long-time landlords.
“Ron and Denise (Symes) had it for 18 years. Stephanie had worked behind the bar and I’d always had a drink or two here so we thought we knew what to expect, but we’ve also learned a lot and tried to adapt to what is needed. It’s generally a quiet country pub that has most of its trade on a Thursday, Friday and Saturday. We’re a freehouse so we can buy our beers from anyone. We have Tetley as our main beer but we always have guest ales and I use local East Riding breweries such as Great Newsome and Wold Top both run by farming families.”
The Black Horse is a predominantly ‘wet’ pub with food only generally served for special events such as local shoots and parties.
“Our busy time in the run-up to Christmas is the last two weeks. The Black Horse has always been a popular village drinkers’ pub.”