|17 Mar 2023
|Life After Hymers
Greens, The Signmakers recently won Signage Company of the Year 2023 and is the family business of Lawrence Green. Although studying at Hymers College at the same time, Lawrence met his future wife, Helen Whitty, through Young Farmers. Together, they are raising two children and both work for the family business.
What years were you at Hymers College?
Helen: 1998 - 2005
Lawrence: I finished Senior School in 2004 and was there all the way from Junior School in 1994.
Did you have any favourite subjects?
Helen: Maths and Languages (Spanish and German)
Lawrence: I've always enjoyed the DT side of things as well as graphic design and the electronics (suppose I should have known where I would end up!) That doesn’t mean I didn’t get on well with other subjects and being at Hymers probably helped me do better that I would have done otherwise.
Did you take part in any extra-curricular activities?
Helen: Music – I played in wind band, orchestra and choir
Lawrence: Music and rugby. I started playing the French Horn in Junior School. I had originally asked to learn the saxophone but unfortunately there weren’t any available, so I stuck with the French horn for a good few years. By this time, I was in the Orchestra as the only pupil playing the French horn so I think they were a little reluctant to let me change.
Eventually by Sixth Form I said there must be a saxophone available by now and that I would be stopping the French horn regardless, at which point I was able to learn the saxophone for a couple of years as well as percussion. After years of counting rests in the orchestra, waiting for the occasional toot of the horn for my part, Mr Penny was glad there was a percussionist who could count!
Having played rugby outside of school in Junior School, I was keen to be part of the school team. I incredibly enjoyed my time playing rugby; the fellowship and teamwork required was amazing. I played mainly in the first team up until GCSE year when I broke my collar bone, so I stopped playing while it healed and, once healed, I didn’t play until after my exams as it was my writing hand. After that gap it was lower teams but I still enjoyed it, even if there was a bit less pressure.
How did the teachers at Hymers help shape your career choice?
Helen: Funny story – I distinctly remember Mr Nicholls (German) when I was considering my options at AS Level telling me not to drop German as I wanted to do Accounting as a subject instead. Telling me that if I dropped a language at this stage I would never continue with it, whereas Accounts was something that I could pick up later in life, if that is the route I wanted to go down. Here I am 20 years later, as the financial director of a company doing accounts day in day out! But that said I do not regret the choice to do German at all. I really enjoyed German in the Sixth Form and at university, and had an amazing 6 months working in Austria, and many of my jobs post-university were using my languages, so it was definitely the right advice to give.
Lawrence: I don’t think the teachers helped shape my career choice but they certainly helped shape me as a person. Lessons didn’t have to come from the obvious class room environment and discussions could be had with teachers at any point. I think if you treated them with respect, they would treat you fairly and as an equal (at least most of them in my time) and help guide you in that way.
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after school. Subjects had been taken based on what I enjoyed as I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Knowing help was needed in our family business and that I didn’t want to be pushed into any decision, I knew I wanted to wait a year before university and apply once I knew my grades. The day after my last exam I went straight to work in the factory at Greens the Signmakers, helping manufacture signs for a large project for Bensons for Beds. I worked straight through until Christmas, where I then did a 3 month ski season over in Canada to gain my skiing instructors qualification before returning back to work again for the next summer.
Who was your favourite teacher and why?
Helen: Not sure I really had a favourite – I definitely had ones I didn’t get on with! But that probably doesn’t make good reading for an OH article!!
But I got on really well with all the teachers I had in sixth form doing languages – Mr Nicholls and Mr Tordoff for German, Mrs Powell and Mrs Mitchell for Spanish, and then on the music side, Mr Penny too.
Lawrence: I got on well with pretty much all the teachers I think but especially ones linked to sport. I remember Mr Guy and Mr Aldred, partly from classes but also from the school ski trips, with Mr Aldred often happy to let me lead the experienced group with him following at the back. Mr Aldred's geography lessons were always enjoyable. I think I appreciated the firm but fair approach; as long as you try, we will all get along.
Are you still in touch with anyone from Hymers?
Helen: Pupils wise, from my year group, I regularly see Katy Holloway (was Laucht) who left in 2005 and Emma Railton who left before sixth form in 2003.
Teachers wise, we occasionally see Mr Nicholls through work with the cycling events he does, and I have recently seen Mrs Powell at the Hymers Chorus practices.
Lawrence: In terms of teachers I still have connections with Mr Nichols and Mr Walmsley via social media. Mr Walmsley is another candidate for favourite teacher after many years of coaching the rugby teams. Ive assisted Mr Nichols with his Humberbridge Sportive cycling event repeatedly over the years, supplying banners and printed material to help the event run well.
I am still friends with a select few from school but I was never the best at the social side of growing up. Always fine in the moment but shy to follow up afterwards but those that remain are very close friends.
What is your funniest memory of Hymers?
Helen: Not really sure about funny memories specifically, there were obviously the usual pranks that went on, but usually they were at someone’s expense so I wouldn’t want to happily reminisce about something that someone might now have as one of their most embarrassing memories of their time at the school.
I suppose one at my own expense is fine though – I remember clearly in the winter, I was in Year 7 and it had snowed a lot so our bus was very late in to school in the morning. As soon as we got off the bus we were all messing around in the snow before heading off to lessons. Someone I was with dared me to throw a snowball at the next kid that got off the bus – fine by me. Unfortunately the next ‘kid’ off the bus was some huge sixth former! I remember hesitating for a second or two then thinking it’s only a snow ball, I’m a small girl in year 7, some big guy from the sixth form won’t be bothered – wrong! He then chased me, tripped me up and shoved my head in to a load of snow on the ground, which was definitely not the reaction I was expecting, but it did delay lessons a little more at least.
I definitely have very fond memories from the music side of my time at Hymers, the amazing sound that the orchestra and choir would make and being a part of that felt amazing. Music is something I have neglected really since leaving Hymers, just getting my enjoyment from singing along to the radio in the car/shower, very much in private to myself. But since my daughter Charlotte has taken an interest in music herself, singing in our local church choir, and learning the clarinet too (currently being taught by Margaret from Hymers actually!), that has made me realise that I miss that group music so have joined the Hymers Chorus, and am looking at joining a church choir near us too.
Not sure if it counts as a funny memory or appropriate to print in OH news, but something that has stuck with me was arriving at school for my final GCSE exam to be told I was not allowed to come in to the exam room as I had dyed the underside of my hair and that was against school policy – but to be told this by Miss Stanyon who at that time was on maybe her 5th ‘bold’ (and very much not natural) hair colour of the year! So I obviously ignored her and continued to do the exam.
Lawrence: There were end of term pranks for the final assembly, with having my 6th form registration room in the DT block you often had an idea of what was going to happen, usually some harmless remote control sounder of some type. I enjoyed many of the school trips, from rugby to skiing and even the choir one to Belgium but it wasn’t just the big events that made it special, there was something fun happening most of the time.
Did you go on to continue Further Education after leaving Hymers?
Helen: Yes – I studied International Business with German and Spanish at Aston University which I thoroughly enjoyed, and got to spend a year working abroad, so 6 months in Seville, then 6 months in a small town in Austria.
Lawrence: I went onto Oxford Brookes to study Motorsport engineering and after successfully passing my first year I reflected over the summer about what I might like to do with the rest of my life. After looking at the options I realised that joining the family business was what I most wanted to do. It was a hard decision to take, I guess I was fearful of people thinking I was taking the easy option, but it has been an incredibly challenging, rewarding and more importantly enjoyable experience. I often think it would have been far easier to go down a more traditional line of employment but I wouldn’t be able to enjoy the freedom I get from Greens.
Returning to finish my degree, I changed my options slightly to Motorsport Technology. Having done many modules for this in my first year, it meant I had time in the schedule to do some more business based modules.
What career path have you followed?
Helen: Initially after university I was using my languages, working in a number of sectors (corporate health, logistics, printing) that all had links to Europe so I would be looking after the German and Spanish speaking side of things there. Then after having children, I moved to the family business for the flexibility it offered and the ability to be able to make an impact without having to go through getting approval from managers/directors etc. whenever there was something you wanted to implement or change. Here, I have done a number of roles from Project Management, through Installations Co-ordination, Health & Safety and then HR and Accounts.
Lawrence: Even though it was a family business, with my dad at the helm, I have worked my way up through the roles. Starting out in manufacturing and being hands on with production taught me a lot. Progressing to surveyor and assistant production manager, then returning to becoming a PM after uni before Operations Director and finally, Managing Director in 2018, as the business turned 55 years old. With the business now 60 years old, my dad remains as chairman but is happy to leave the day to day running of the company to the next generation.
I am also a director at Livingstone Motor group. Originally Hull Mitsubishi but when Mitsubishi decided to pull out of Europe, myself and the sales manager realised it was a great opportunity for investment and to turn a business around. Now selling Subaru/Isuzu/Ssangyong we have turned it into a fantastic company and actively looking for the next site to achieve our expansion plans.
Can you tell us more about how you both met?
Helen: While we were both at Hymers at the same time, we did not know really know each other at all until we got together in 2003. We actually met through Young Farmers and it was just a bonus that we were both at the same school. Lawrence was already a member of Thorngumbald Young Farmers, as was my friend Emma Railton. She took me along to various Young Farmers events, and the one I met Lawrence at was a foam party. Obviously, after that we saw a lot of each other at school and when we were both in Sixth Form, which really helped as we lived miles from each other and otherwise would only have been able to see each other once a week at Young Farmers.
Lawrence: I think Helen has covered how we met quite well, through a mutual school friend but outside of school. In fact we hadn’t even really seen each other in school at all before. Now, Helen is 35 and I am 37, we have been together for well over half of our lives.
Although together for so long, we’ve not stopped letting each other be ourselves and pursue our own hobbies/passions. Be that disappearing for a ski season, working abroad for a placement year, joining choirs/clubs or taking part in time consuming hobbies such as motorsport, we have always supported each other in these and hope our kids can see the positive attributes of being both an individual and part of a team. I think Hymers helped bring that mentality out as well.
Can you tell us more about your family business?
Helen: I guess Lawrence would be the best one to explain more generally about what we do etc., but from my perspective, I have been involved with the business really from the age of 16 when I met Lawrence. My first memories being coming in on an evening/weekend to work in the factory, sticking LEDs in to signs with him just so that I could actually see him as they were very busy at the time.
Then my main involvement really started much later, in 2014, after having my daughter, Charlotte, and realising that where I was working before, having children was not going to be as flexible as I had hoped it would be on my return. Greens had a project manager due to be going off on maternity leave themselves so they needed someone to fill their role temporarily, so I stepped in to fill that role. I then just moved around other roles within the business as needed and now look after the HR and Finance side of the business.
I would probably say that I introduced a HR side to the business as it was not something that had really been considered before, but the business had definitely grown to a size that needed it. Then from there, also covering the accounts side of things too.
Obviously it is now a third generation business and we don’t know if the fourth generation will be involved, officially or not, but their influence has already started with the inspiration for the #challengegreen movement coming from Charlotte herself. They both love coming in to work and getting involved where they can for now.
Lawrence: We are one of the UKs major manufacturer and installer of signage. We supply both internal and external signage for the likes of Currys, Carpetright, Homebase, Bensons for Beds, Farmfoods, B&Q, Salvation Army, Howdens, Hertz etc. and have recently pushed into the automotive sector as well. We manufacture everything in house in our factory just off Hessle Road in Hull and operate throughout UK, Ireland, occasionally mainland Europe and have even just won a contract for signage in Iceland!
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