Paul Hyatt confesses to being a life-long lover of all things geographic and that he felt like a ‘kid in a sweet shop’ when he studied with NRI at the University of Greenwich. Paul took five minutes out of his day to Skype with Communications Officer Linden Kemkaran, about his passion for fusing technology and geography and where it’s taken him during his long career.
My first year at the University of Greenwich – 1994 – was spent at the old Wapping campus in east London; it was that long ago! The following year saw the relocation to the present campus in Chatham.
I studied a BSc in Geography, then did a Masters in GIS – Geographical Information Systems - a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on the Earth’s surface. I’d always been keen to find out about the world and explore all the various data on streets, buildings, vegetation etc and understand the various patterns and relationships, but back in the 1990s it was little understood, and no-one was talking about climate change or sustainability – it wasn’t yet part of the common parlance.
NRI being part of the University of Greenwich, made its work very close and real. The research and application aspect was – and still is – so important, and to be able to spend time with the NRI scientists really brought GIS to life for me. I was given a great demonstration of the important role that remote sensing could play in the cutting-edge world of technology, as at NRI, they were already using it.
I was like a kid in a sweet shop – NRI opened my eyes to all the possibilities; data and GIS and the project work, witnessing all the research projects – that’s where I got the bug. At NRI, I sat next to real people doing real projects – the learning was directly connected to the end product, which is always dedicated to making a positive difference to people’s lives.
After I finished my Master’s in 1998, I gravitated back to my home in London and I got a temporary data input job with the London and East Training Enterprise Council. They were outsourcing a lot of the GIS work so I offered to do it for them in-house, and they gave me a job!
After a few years, I relocated to Cardiff to work at a company which delivered real-time passenger information systems – the electronic displays that we now see on bus stops and train platforms all over the place. I got that job as a result of a ‘Greenwich’ connection, recommended by someone from my degree course.
At the time of the millennium, real-time passenger information was really new technology. I was a Project Engineer – the person on the ground delivering projects for local authorities. I discovered that I liked the variety of overseeing GIS work, as much as I liked being out on location, learning a whole lot of new skills.
For example, I would often be in remote places on a bus at 3am downloading a new software package, then the next day overseeing street-works and civil engineering contractors, or supporting our sales team to produce a new contract proposal. I would joke that I was a ‘jack of all trades, and master of none’ – but I was developing my understanding of all that we did as a business, to play an active and effective role in diverse teams and successfully implement end-to-end project delivery.
Being at Greenwich had prepared me well for just throwing myself into a variety of challenges where I wasn’t a subject matter expert, but still had the confidence to stand on my own two feet and have a go at unfamiliar things.
In 2004 I joined the Environment Agency and I’m still here 16 years later. I began on some of our National Flood Risk systems warning services, which played to my skills for handling real-time data, to better protect people from the risks of flooding. Flooding ruins lives so it had a real sense of purpose.
I love it and would recommend it for anyone studying environmental sciences. We really strive to make places better for people and wildlife: cleaner rivers, flood and coastal risk management, environmental regulation, climate change – it’s such a wide variety of work.
Around ten years ago, I took up a different role to help shape how we publish and share Environment Agency data, to support our corporate decision making. Again, it used all my core skills and I concentrated on creating and managing projects to improve how we do things.
In 2017, I progressed to the role of Programme Manager, in the Asset and Programme Management team. I manage a range of programmes and projects across the Environment Agency and Defra, supporting our work to better protect over 300,000 homes from the effects of flooding by the end of the current six-year programme in Spring 2021. I manage a flexible team of 20 to 30 fantastic people.
Are we winning? The conversation around climate change is definitely growing, but much still needs to be done. The coronavirus pandemic has proved that many of us can work effectively for the most part without travelling long distances, or commuting. Environmentally speaking, working from home has broken down all sorts of barriers – I hope this is a positive outcome for our environment, during what is a very difficult time for many people.
I’ve never had a ‘grand plan’ for my career, I’ve followed my interests and it’s worked out so far. I’m lucky to live and work in Bristol and have some wonderful countryside on my doorstep. Together with my young family and our three border collies, we love getting out into nature as often as possible.
It’s an uncertain time right now with Covid 19 and Brexit. There will be some big challenges coming up for the environment but I very much hope to be here, playing a role in helping to create better places for people and wildlife through whatever is to come.