David Edwards, Head of Workforce Planning, Ericsson

In our regular series, VIPs remember where their Vs and Is came from

David Edwards headshot

Hi, David! Who are you and what do you do?

I'm David Edwards and I'm Head of Workforce Planning for Ericsson.

What was your #MyFirstMcJob?

Working in the laundry room at St Audry's psychiatric Hospital in Suffolk when I was studying for my A Levels.

How did you get that job?

Through a friend of my mum.

What do you have to do?

I had to operate the tumble dryers at the end of this giant tunnel of washing machines, sort piles of dirty laundry into their various types – sheets, pillowcases, that kind of thing. I also had to work in the foul linen room. You’d pick up the laundry bags in an electric van that went between wards. The white bags went into one sorting room and the red bags went into the foul linen room. In there, you’d get a pair of rubber gloves, several cans of air freshener and a radio for company and load the sorted piles into a side-loading washing machine. The only way to get the machines full was to pretty much put your entire head inside the drum. That room also had a red bin, full of the worst of it. Because I was the youngest, they would always make sure that that bin was full to overflowing when it was my turn to go in there.

And just to clarify what you mean by “foul linen”?

It means everything you think it means.

Eu-oh! How long did you work there for?

For about a year. After school, I went to work as a voluntary teacher in Kenya. I then spent a miserable year at Essex University being a lousy student but a very good DJ. I eventually dropped out and went back to the hospital where they gave me a full time job. I have a rather dubious distinction that I was in exactly the same spot on the day that Elvis died and the day that John Lennon died. When people say: “Where were you when Elvis died?” I say: “I was in the foul linen room.”

Did anything more memorable happen than Elvis and John Lennon dying?

Someone who suspected I had a bit of a brains said: “You really ought to apply for a job in the patient's monies office.” I remember it was July and I was in my last week there when this girl who I thought was very attractive came in to do holiday relief work. Through an intermediary whose name was Jack Frost I asked her out. 43 years later, we're still married. It’s a bonkers story, but all true, including the Jack Frost bit.

Do you and Mrs Edwards often reminisce about your fond times working at St Audry's psychiatric Hospital?

If anybody asks how we met, she says we met between the sheets and giggles, whilst I cringe. So, no, not that often!

Were there any perks of the job?

There weren’t many perks other than it was pretty brainless and you couldn’t take your work home with you! I still remember the wards clearly, especially the wards where people had electroconvulsive therapy. As a young impressionable lad, that was quite a thing. All these poor old fellows, the sights, smells and sounds made you think: “Frankly, I don't want to end up like that.” 40 plus years on, I'm approaching the age where it could very well happen.

What skills did you learn that you still use today?

I definitely learned to never get above yourself. Working somewhere like that makes you very grounded. I'd been to uni and liked to think I was clever. But I had to communicate with all the people in the wards and the people doing the manual labour and earn their trust. Everyone does their honest best and deserves to be listened to.

Are you in contact with any of your ex-colleagues, other than the one you married?

The last contact was on our wedding day because we invited a couple of the managers. I expect the rest are gone now.

Why is alumni important?

You can’t underestimate the value of shared experiences. Strategic workforce planning can be a lonely job. It’s a very different way of working, and lots people don't want to change the way they work to that degree. The value of the alumni is being able to pick up the phone to somebody and say: “I'm experiencing this. Are you?” More often than not, the answer will be: “Yes. I’m experiencing the same.”

What would happen if you went back and did a day working in the foul linen room today?

I would know exactly what to do: which soap to use, which bin everything needs to go in, how long to tumble a draw sheet. It's absolutely etched into me.

If you could go back to that time and give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?

“Finish your bloody degree.”



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