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From ghost stories to royal birthdays, we wave goodbye to John Riley after his 43 years at Salford

Monday 2 September 2019

Head of Maintenance, John Riley, retires today after his 43 years working at the University. We caught up with him to chat and reminisce over his favourite Salford memories...

So, John when did you start working for the University and how did you go about getting your first job here?

I started working for the university on 7 June 1976. My father had a maintenance background so I knew I was going to go into it.

I’ve lived in Oldham my whole life and when I came here for my interview the electrician brought it up and asked me how am I going to get to work? At the time I was 16 nearly 17 and I said to him ‘don’t worry mate I'll have a car by then’. He just laughed and said he loved my confidence and enthusiasm and I was offered the job! I was being paid £20 a week back then.

Did you manage to get the car?

I started work in June and by the September I found one and bought it for £100 I used to drive it to work and park round the back of the Humphrey Booth, which wasn’t even our building back then.

What’s your first memory of Salford?

It was scary being a 16-year-old kid walking into an environment where I didn't know the conversation of an adult. They used to send me to the shops for stupid things and I would never dare say no, but I’d ask someone on the way out, ‘is this right?’ and it would never be the right thing. It was all fun though.

Do you have any interesting stories about Salford?

That the old Adelphi is haunted. I know members of security that wouldn’t go into certain parts of that building because they swore they could hear footsteps at night.

I’ve also seen the campus grow over the years. I remember when Lady Hale used to be a bank and Peel car park was a cafeteria and a bookshop. I've even seen the New Adelphi when it was a central boiler system - the whole place has changed.

Best thing about the job?

Definitely the people and being able to watch the campus change over the time I’ve worked here. You just get to know so many different faces and hear so many stories.

I was in the museum the other week. They have two of Lowry’s paintings on loan and while I was chatting to someone who worked there, I asked about the pictures and if she knew where they had been painted.

She said, ‘south side Peel Park’ so I told her come with me and I showed her the window that was Lowry’s room. I told her if you stand there and look down, there’s the view that he painted, and she was shocked she worked there and didn’t know!

What are some of your favourite memories?

My favourite memory is 11 years ago, I received a phone call from the Vice Chancellors secretary asking me if I'd like to go to Price Phillips 90th birthday party. I accepted thinking they were joking and didn’t think anything of it until I received the invite in the post two weeks later. The room was full of Lords and Ladies!

Biggest maintenance challenge?

Every job is a challenge and without my team I'd fail, but we’re always prepared, and we’ve been successful.

Once there was a big disaster course and everybody came together for huge meeting. Somebody came forward and said, ‘what do we do if we have a disaster at the University?’ and somebody - who I'm not going to name, said ‘we’ll just phone John Riley he sorts everything out’. That’s the biggest accolade I can ever have.

Do you have any plans after you retire?

I want to travel, there’s people I want to see abroad, my parents live in Vancouver and I’ve always put it off because I wanted to spend months out there not just a couple of weeks. I always thought when I retire that’s my plan.

I had always planned to retire when I’m 60 but when the early retirement came out, I thought I'd just go for it.

but because all my plans were set in place for January, I thought what am I going to do now?

So, my intentions are to have the six months to relax and get used to it and do nothing, obviously I’ll have my party around Christmas, I’ve always been known for that.

What made you decide to stay at Salford for so long?

There’s been good days and bad days and there’s been times when I would think that I was going to move on, but my father always used to say to me ‘your breads buttered there’ and in reality, I was scared to move elsewhere.

Everybody thinks everyone has a better life than them, but I don’t think anybody’s got a better life than what I've got.

The University has given me a great lifestyle, it’s helped me bring my kids up, Salford has looked after me.

Do you have a best moment of the job or a claim to fame?

I was on the front of a prospectus one time. It was the red-hot summer of ‘76 and I had only been working at the University for two months, I was walking across campus with one of the lads and the university photographer was there. He shouted over asking us to do him a favour and stand on the bridge that went across the campus.

How does it feel to be retiring after all this time?

It is sad to be walking out of 43 years of work but it’s something I've looked forward to. I’ve met a lot of great people. 

I wonder who is going to get my car parking space because I've got the best one in the University and everyone keeps saying ‘it’s going to be sad not seeing your car here every morning’.

Will you miss Salford?

Of course, it’s going to be sad, I'm going to miss the people and being here every day but it’s the way forward. I’m prepared for it and now the time has come.

Find out more

Rebecca McGrath

0161 295 7016