Always There - Lawrence Berry
If you have used the Guildhall in Dartmouth’s Victoria Road for any reason in the last 21 years chances are you will have met Lawrence Berry.
‘People think I sleep here,’ he tells me as we meet in, yes, the Guildhall as he sets up for another group hiring
the Ballroom. ‘I want to do a good job and I like dealing with the general public – I have to bite my tongue now and again, but I’ve loved it.’
‘I was born in Lake Street in number 27,’ he tells me. ‘My father used to work at the Britannia Royal Naval College, as a cleaner looking after the Chapel. I learnt from him how you were supposed to work. If you want to do a job properly you have to plan ahead.’
Never a stranger to hard work from the day he began work at the age of 15 at the Veg stores in the Old Market – where he is currently market manager.
After a varied career which took in working for Dartmouth hospital, in a petrol station, laying gas mains and even skippering a yacht, Lawrence started at the Guildhall on June 2, 1990. On his last day he will have been working for the council 21 years and one month exactly.
Lawrence appears to walk around with the entire list of Guildhall and Market Square bookings in his head.
‘I started as the cleaner and handyman, and I took
on the Boatfloat manager role 18 months later,’ he said. ‘Everything I need to know is upstairs – in my head! You have to work in advance and plan everything you need to do. I like what I do – if I’m waiting for a function to finish I just catch up on my reading.‘
Having worked for four town clerks, and seen 11 mayors come and go, Lawrence is very phlegmatic about the changes in political figures at the council.
‘I seen ‘em come, and I seen ‘em go,’ he said. ‘Some have done lots for the town and I have got on with most of them. When you are in my position you see a lot of things and you just keep them to yourself. Blunders and funny
things happening to all sorts of people, but I won’t be telling – even though if I did, I could write a book!’
He certainly has seen some very strange and wonderful things going on in the Guildhall – from Civic Dinners and Freemason’s Dinners to Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks wrestling and the joyous chaos of the late Judy Lewthwaite’s Strolling Playhouse. The theatre for children gave Lawrence some of his happiest moments at the Guildhall.
‘They were just great plays,’ he said. ‘The children loved it, and I was often on the spotlights and everyone had fun, no matter what happened – including the set falling down!’ In fact Lawrence has not only been ‘there’ for 21 years, sometimes he has been the lifesaver for those in a tight spot.
‘I’ve been setting up for weddings when the caterers haven’t turned up and had to get in caterers from the town,’ he laughs. ‘I’ve been a witness at weddings and even had to buy champagne when the caterers forgot!
‘There’s no use getting angry, stressed or irritated. You have to remain positive when dealing with people, no matter what’s going on, or going wrong! I’m a working class man, but I seem to be able to get on with anyone, from mayors to brides to Worshipful Masters of the Freemason’s lodge! I just say to people: “Tell me what you want and if it’s possible, I’ll get it done for you”. It’s as simple as that.’
Lawrence will he handing in his keys on Friday, July 8 for the final time, and hands over to two people, both of whom will be getting assistants in their roles.
‘I’ll lock up, hand over my keys and say “now I’m gonna go!” he grins. ‘I might also have a libation in the Windjammer afterwards, you never know.
‘I’m going to take a little time off, then I will use my free time to take some photographs, as I’ve bought myself a camera. I’m looking forward to it!’
First published July 2011 By the Dart