Going for gold takes on whole new meaning

23rd October 2009 at 01:00
Self-confessed painting geek and competition addict wins global painting and decorating award

If there was a reality television show in which painters and decorators were pitched against each other to see who was the best, there's no doubt that 22-year-old Mark Nevin would enter - and in all probability come out the winner.

And if he didn't, it would be safe to say he would not be a happy man. The self-confessed "painting geek" and "perfectionist" who became "addicted" to competitions while doing his SVQs (levels 1, 2 and 3) at Telford College has just been awarded a gold medal for painting and decorating at the WorldSkills competition in Calgary, Canada, after beating off competition from across the globe.

"To have competed against the best young painters and decorators in the world was an amazing experience in itself, but to win a gold medal and Best in Nation (UK) award in the trade I love is just incredible," says Mr Nevin.

"The Telford lecturers must have seen something in me when I started at college, because they entered me for a competition run by the Scottish Association of Painting Craft Teachers in my first year. It's normally only open to second-level students, but I won it that year and the following one - and the other competitions just kind of followed on from that," he says.

Mr Nevin has never lost a competition. In 2004, he became the Scottish Craft Apprentice of the Year and in 2005 - his annus mirabilis - he was Scottish Advanced Craft Apprentice of the Year; Scottish Young Decorator of the Year; British Young Decorator of the Year and Scottish Young Painter of the Year.

In Calgary, in August this year, he was up against 14 other competitors in a gruelling four-day competition which involved, among other things, reproducing on a blank wall the Calgary skyline, five times the size of the specification drawing, without the use of masking tape which would effectively erase any blotches or drips.

At the 40th WorldSkills competition, he also broke the record in wallpapering, in a speed competition which no one had ever completed in under half-an-hour. Mr Nevin won in a time of 24 minutes.

Still resident in his hometown of East Calder, Mr Nevin left West Calder High ("It was as good as school gets") with six Credit and two General Standard grades, with the intention of following his brother into the army. But an old football injury which had resulted in a misaligned pelvis put paid to that idea and he began working for his father's painting and decorating business. "I found I liked it and decided to go to college," he says.

"Liked" is probably something of an understatement, as Mr Nevin typically worked through his lunchtimes and breaks on whatever the given coursework was.

"Yeah, you could say I was the class swot and I did get a bit of ribbing from other students. But I'm a perfectionist. It's my nature. And I always want to be the best," he says.

While at college, which he left in 2007, he continued to work for his dad and is now the general foreman in charge of some 50 men.

"Being put in charge at the age of 21, some of the men probably thought I got the job because I was the boss's son. Not now, and especially not after Canada. They know for sure I have the knowledge behind what I say and the technical ability to beat anyone," he says.

A specialist in sign writing (gold-leaf sign writing in particular), graining and marbling, Mr Nevin has overseen the repainting of the ceilings and heraldic coats of arms in St Giles Cathedral (the family firm often undertakes conservation and restoration work in landmark buildings such as Edinburgh Castle, the National Galleries and Hopetoun House).

Not surprisingly, Nevin of Edinburgh (and its sister firm Mackay of Perth) are regular winners of the Leyland Johnstone Painter of the Year UK Competition. "I loved college - and not just the competitions," says Mr Nevin. "The lecturers were extremely good and very experienced in specialist effects. I'm so glad I went there now and not into the army."

In recognition of his international success, Mr Nevin is being presented with a special recognition award from Telford College.

"From the first day Mark set foot in the decorating section of the college, the staff working with him recognised that he had a talent and ability to succeed and to exceed in his college programme," says Alex Taylor, Telford's decorating, plastering and plumbing curriculum manager.

"We are extremely proud that he has become not only the first painting and decorating world gold medal winner from the college, but also the first UK entrant to win the world competition."

Would Mr Nevin consider passing on his skills to other college students?

"At the moment, I'm finding my professional work too challenging and fulfilling to consider lecturing. Maybe one day I'd like to do it. But I'm so perfectionist I don't know that I would have the patience to deal with what you might call `immature' students.

"Now, night-class students - ones who come because they are enthusiastic and dedicated - I could be drawn to that. I believe in commitment. The rest doesn't interest me."

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