Goodbye Rodney

ONE of the best-known faces in Ipswich is preparing to say farewell to his colleagues next week after a 32-year career devoted to making the town a better place to live in.

ONE of the best-known faces in Ipswich is preparing to say farewell to his colleagues next week after a 32-year career devoted to making the town a better place to live in.

Rodney Cook has worked for Ipswich council since the end of 1974 - starting in the parks department and then heading up the contracting side and eventually becoming general manager of streetcare.

He is now taking early retirement and is looking forward to getting out and exploring the county before becoming a part-time relief manager for councils later in the year.

But the 54-year-old never planned to spend 32 years in Ipswich when he arrived as a recently-qualified member of the parks team.

He said: “I'm not originally from Ipswich and when I was training I was advised to move around the country every three years to get more experience, to climb up the career ladder.

“But I met my wife in Ipswich, she's a local girl, and I found the opportunities to progress up the career ladder were here in the town.”

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However, there were times in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he feared his Ipswich career could come to an abrupt end.

He remembers: “I was appointed manager of the works department in 1987 and that was when compulsory competitive tendering was being introduced. It became Ipswich Borough Contracts in 1990.

“At that time we had to compete for all our council work and we were aware that if we were undercut we could all be out of a job just like that.

“We used to prepare two envelopes - one with the tender and one with a list of people who would have to be made redundant if we failed to be reappointed and would have to receive redundancy pay.

“If the decision was close, the council would open the second envelope. I don't think they had to do that very often because we always put in very good tenders - but it was a bit nerve-wracking knowing that we could effectively lose the contract at any time.”

Mr Cook spent his first 13 years with the council in the parks department, becoming parks manager in 1982.

During this time the town earned an enviable reputation in the Britain In Bloom competition, finishing top town in England and second in Britain in 1985.

“That was the best for the town so far as Britain in Bloom was concerned, we had labour from the Manpower Services Commission and there were hundreds of hanging baskets put up all over the town,” he said.

Reorganisation at the council over recent years means that ensuring parks are tidy has become his responsibility again.

But another key issue he has had to deal with is the sometimes controversial question of rubbish collections on alternative weeks.

He said: “There was some confusion when we started the new collections, but people were very quick to accept what was happening and the need to cut rubbish put into landfill sites.

“We don't get so many problems now - the vast majority of people accept the situation once you explain it to them.”

He was especially proud of Ipswich being named cleanest town in England earlier this year: “That was the perfect end to my time here,” he said.

Ipswich mayor Inga Lockington worked closely with him when she was the council's environment spokeswoman.

She said: “He is a wonderful person to work with. He is determined to do the best for Ipswich and he works very well as the leader of a team. He would always look at ways of getting things done rather than looking for problems.”

Do you want to wish Mr Cook a happy retirement? Write to: Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail>

MR Cook arrived at Ipswich after studying at Writtle College in Essex - but he started his career in his home town of Bournemouth in Dorset.

“At school I was always interested in farming and when I left school I started working on a farm - but my family were not farmers and it was difficult so I left that and joined Bournemouth's parks department.

“After a two-year apprenticeship I was advised to study at college and I went to Writtle. After that I returned to Bournemouth but started applying for other jobs - that's how I ended up in Ipswich.”

Mr Cook is planning to spend the summer walking with his wife Debbie and has also been invited to help crew a friend's catamaran.

“I'm also going to get round to doing all those jobs in the house and garden that I've been putting off for months or years,” he said.

He is also active in Greenfinch Church in Ipswich.

In the autumn he is planning to start a part-job working as an interim manager for councils throughout the country.

“Councils often need someone to step in for a few weeks or months if a manager is away on a specific project or if someone is suspended for whatever reason.

“I've already had an approach but I turned it down because I want to have the summer off first,” he said.

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