Our People: Graham Oliver

Dec 31, 2020 | our people

An archetypal outdoors-man with the greenest fingers on the block.

Graham has been part of our English Woodlands Timber team for going on 17 years.

He joined us in 2003 after a successful career in farming. How successful you ask? Well, in 2002 he was awarded the DEFRA Cup for producing the best marrowfat peas in the UK! Graham doesn’t brag about it though, he’s a modest man with a real passion for horticulture, teamwork and tinkering with agricultural machinery when the need arises. Which is why he’s more than qualified to work at our woodyard where all of those things come together… although in a slightly less edible form.

Graham left school in the early 1970s and went straight to work as a farm hand in East Sussex and Kent. After deciding that picking brussel sprouts in the snow – aged just 15 – wasn’t such a great idea, he went to Faversham Agricultural College and completed his education in farm management. After that, he began working on distinctly warmer summer crops like apples, pears and of course, Kent’s famous hops.

“I worked my way up to farm manager for the main supplier to Batchelors, that’s what we won the DEFRA cup for. I used to love the idea that all over the UK, if you picked-up a packet of Batchelors frozen peas the chances were I’d grown them. I still enjoy my own veg now as much as I did then!”

When the pea farm changed hands in 2003, Graham decided it was time for a change of direction himself and he came to work with us. He is one of our longest serving team members so he’s seen a lot of changes here at Cocking. He’s worked in pretty much every part of the yard. He’s not just hands on with wood. Graham doesn’t mind getting oily (who are we kidding.. he loves it!) and he’s stripped more than a few bearings in our machineshop kit. When he arrived we still ran a stenner bandsaw and an old resaw that only Graham really had the knack of working. He’s changed everything from blades to drive belts on our machines over the years and now he’s hot on maintenance of all the new kit as we expand.

“I never lost that Farm Manager mentality, you got to be a bit of a jack of all trades – like testing the fire alarms and making sure the machinery is serviced. I also make sure the kilns are stacked properly. There’s so many important little things you learn as you go along. Mix two thicknesses or types of wood by mistake and you risk warping or splits, just 30mm can made all the difference when you are drying quality hardwoods.”

Graham may be less hands on with the machinery now that so much of it is computerised, but he’s just as busy as ever. His main focus is pulling jobs for customers and making sure they get the best product for their needs. Again, he’s seen a lot of changes in that regard too. Today’s customer expectations have changed, they want high quality timbers milled to precise specifications – unlike when he started and traditional sawmill clients bought timbers and even seasoned logs, then did the milling themselves.

Graham has also noticed an increasing demand for varieties of wood like pippy oak. cedar and elm that weren’t nearly as popular when he started, as well as new trends in the sort of projects customers want high quality timber for.

“It used to be traditional building or furniture customers, now it’s more diverse. Right now – because of Covid – everyone wants home workshops and offices. Customers often ask for soft woods but I recommend 150mm square oak beams, with oak or elm cladding. I recommend waney edges too, because they’re a lot more forgiving if you get one out of alignment or get your maths wrong. And you can’t beat cedar shingle roofs, which look brilliant, provide great weatherproofing and last a lifetime.”

As one half of our legendary G-Unit – the implaccable duo of Graham & Grant – we’re very sorry to report that Graham is due to retire next year.

He’s our resident expert on air drying the stock, a dab hand with a wrench and an oilcan, and he knows his way around the our yard like the back of his hand. However, we’re pretty sure with a little encouragement, we’ll be able to tempt him to stop by now and again to help out. Or at the very least, to drop off some of his prize home-grown veg and gorgeous flowers.

“I’m looking forward to retirement. I’m going to work on my 16th Century style Parisian deep bed veg patch which has made me self-sufficient. I love to camp out on the marshes during duck season and bag a few for dinner. I Iike cooking too, I do a nice Thai curry, beef wellington, steak and veg from the garden. Lovely. I might get myself a little gardening job for the old folks round the village. After all these years farming and in the woodyard, I’m an outdoors man, can’t be inside all day!”

Like Scarlet O’Hara, we just can’t think about that right now… we’ll think about that tomorrow.

For now we’ll make the most of having him on our team.


If you enjoyed finding our more about our Graham you might like to read about some other members of the EWT team – find out more about Our People

Take a look at Graham’s Garden – his flowers page