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Changing the world: Stephen Payne OBE HonFIED describes how his experiences at school inspired him to help set up Future Engineers, an initiative to encourage students into engineering careers.


In 1977, when I was in the sixth form at secondary school studying A-Levels, the careers service and many of my teachers were busy imparting advice on careers that I might consider and university courses to suit. By that time I had, in fact, long decided on becoming a naval architect. A BBC Blue Peter programme, broadcast in 1967, had initiated my interest with two of the programme's presenters, including the venerable Valerie Singleton, having reported from a cross Channel trip on the Queen Elizabeth. That report had captured my imagination which was compounded two years later when, on a family holiday to Bournemouth, we were able to visit the new Queen Elizabeth 2 in Southampton Docks, just one month into her illustrious career.

Up in smoke

Two years later, in January 1972, the Queen Elizabeth, now renamed Seawise University and at the cusp of re-entering service, was destroyed by arson whilst lying at Hong Kong Harbour. As it happened, Blue Peter were broadcasting that day and they were able to ditch their planned programme and link up live with events in the Colony as the drama unfolded. Before our very eyes, the former flagship of the British Merchant Marine rolled over on her side amidst clouds of steam, smoke and flame, becoming a total loss. Later that year, the Blue Peter Annual duly reported the great ship's demise with a full feature about the ship's career, including a nice cutaway drawing showing her internal layout. The feature concluded with the statement: "It was a sad day for everybody that loves great ships. The Queen Elizabeth was the last of a great age--a superliner and nothing like her will ever be built again."

At school we were learning how to write letters and my English teacher, Miss Boucle, informed us that the most important type of letter we could learn to write was an effective letter of complaint. Homework for such was set and, for my effort, I decided to complain co Blue Peter about their comment on the Queen Elizabeth being the last of a great age and that nothing like her would be built again. I also included some ideas for my future design--after all this was exactly what I wanted to do when I grew up.


Duly completed, the letter received a good mark from Miss Boucle, so I decided to send it off to the programme. Several weeks later I received a reply from Blue Peter's erstwhile editor, Biddy Baxter. She explained that they were fascinated by my comments and wished me luck and that I shouldn't be disappointed if 'my ship' never came to pass. I also received a blue Blue Peter badge and not the gold one that I had hoped for when I sent my letter off.

So in 1977, with my O-Levels in the bag and A-Levels nearing completion, I announced to my school what I wanted to do. It shouldn't have been a surprise as I had been talking about this for years. However, the careers service and many of my senior teachers had other ideas. They informed me that engineering was dirty, in decline and not worthwhile--I would be better off doing a pure science course, such as Chemistry.

With nobody from my immediate family ever having gone on to higher education and with no engineers amongst my family or acquaintances, I felt obliged to follow the advice I had been given and I duly enrolled to read Chemistry at Imperial College London.


Back on track

A year into my course I met my former Physics teacher who convinced me that the wrong decision had been made and that I should switch to naval architecture which, with his support, I did, joining the University of Southampton's Ship Science course.

Twelve years later, having qualified and having worked my way up through the ranks at Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding, I was given the task of designing, contracting and supervising the construction of Cunard Line's new flagship, Queen Mary S.H time for 'my ship' had come. I was very fortunate to have been given a free hand, save for the fact that my budget (500 million [pounds sterling]) was not to be exceeded and that the requisite number of cabins had to be provided for in order to ensure the economic model for the ship was sound. I was told that I would only get the chance once in my lifetime to design and build such a ship and that I had better get it right the first time!

The ship was delivered in December 2003 and she was the largest ever passenger liner in the world, almost twice the size of the Queen Elizabeth. She entered service in January 2004, after being named in Southampton by Her Majesty The Queen. As the ship sailed into Southampton for the first time, I was interviewed on the bridge and this caught the attention of my former English teacher, Miss Boutle! She duly sent me a letter and I have subsequently renewed acquaintance with her and a few years ago she was able to join me on a transatlantic crossing. What made that particular voyage especially wonderful was the fact that one of the ship's five special multi-room suites was vacant and my party, including Pat, was allowed to occupy it.

I was also very proud when I was able to show the current Blue Peter team around the ship and even more so when they presented me with the coveted gold Blue Peter badge I had previously aspired to, all as part of one of the programmes!

Deja vu

In 2007 I was elected President of The Royal Institution of Naval Architects. As such and in conjunction with publicity surrounding Queen Mary 2, I receive a fair amount of correspondence, some of it from youngsters asking about the engineering profession. Some 30 years since I considered my options, a recurring theme persists amongst these letters in that many youngsters are still being told that engineering is dirty, it's in decline and that there are few worthwhile jobs for engineers. Deja vu and all that. One young lady was even told by her school to look for something more feminine! Clearly those of us in the engineering professions have to work to change this attitude at the source and this is exactly what I and a number of like minded individuals are hoping to do with our 'Future Engineers' initiative.

Future Engineers is designed to showcase major engineering projects to students (and teachers) in such a way to encourage them to consider engineering as their profession. Each event is spread over a day and involves a site visit to a project or facility, followed by an engineering fair with group activities and employee stands offering literature and promotional wares.

The first Future Engineers event was successfully held on board Queen Mary 2 on 10 October 2008. Three hundred and fifty school students and teachers from the Southern Counties, London, Newcastle, Scotland, Poland and Botswana converged on Southampton for the event which was run in conjunction with Quilley School of Engineering, Eastleigh. It was a real challenge for my fellow organisers (Roy Bromley and Brian Ansell) and me to ensure that everything went as smoothly as possible. The visit to the ship included presentations in the ship's planetarium (including the reading out of a letter of support from HRH Prince Philip) and a tour around the public spaces where members of the shipbuilding design team were on hand to answer questions.



Before disembarking, the students visited the fore deck where the ship's spare stainless steel propeller blades are mounted, proudly standing on view in defiance of the Atlantic. The youngest member of Carnivars newbuild team, naval architect Tom Gunn, was on hand to answer the many questions that were raised by the visitors.

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly the participation of Jordan Vos, a budding ten-year-old naval architect from Botswana, who had seen the Queen Mary 2 on a television documentary and who had written in asking how he could follow in my footsteps and design such ships in the future. With Cunard's assistance we were able to fly him and his mother over for the event and he ably participated in a number of interviews highlighting what we were trying to achieve.

Official feedback from a questionnaire from both students and teachers was very encouraging, with a very high level of interest and satisfaction. Importantly, there were many reports of the visit inspiring students to consider engineering and the Royal Navy registered one of their best days in signing students up for potential engineering appointments.


In January 2009, I was honoured by the Institution of Engineering Designers in being offered an Honorary Fellowship of the Institution. I gratefully accepted and I hope that my association with the Future Engineers initiative and my passion for spreading the word about engineering will sit nicely with the aims and aspirations of the IED.

Looking to the future

This coming year we plan to repeat the Queen Mary 2 event and to run an additional aeronautically themed day in association with the regional airline Flybe, at their Exeter maintenance base. Plans are well advanced for this event and we are in early discussions with Rolls-Royce for a future event at Derby and with BAE Submarine Solutions for an event at Barrow. There are also tentative plans for events in Glasgow, Cork and the Cayman Islands.

The success of all these projects is dependent on sponsorship and should readers of this article consider that their organisations may be able to join our existing sponsors and partners or have additional ideas which we could consider for future events, they are urged to contact Roy Bromley at Please also visit our website at Our motto is: "Engineers Change the World". Future Engineers aims to make this even more so.

Stephen M Payne


HonPhD(Science) BScEng(Hons) CEng

Vice President Chief Naval Architect

Carnival Corporate Shipbuilding Southampton

President The Royal Institution of Naval Architects

Designer Queen Mary 2
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Title Annotation:Future Engineers
Author:Payne, Stephen M.
Publication:Engineering Designer
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:May 1, 2009
Previous Article:Open and shut case.
Next Article:Institution of Engineering Designers: annual report & accounts.

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