When Peter Wood swaps the streets of Sheffield for the green forests of Guyana this week, the head of the city’s Technology Parks will be taking a small step back into his scientific past.
Prior to joining the Technology Parks to develop its business support services and taking over as chief executive, he trained as a marine biologist.
After graduating from Liverpool University, Peter went on to play a key role in aquaculture projects, establishing prawn hatcheries in Ecuador and Indonesia and salmon farms off the Isle of Skye.
In the process, he worked for organisations and individuals as varied as confectionery giants Mars, oil companies Elf and Petrofina and Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson.
“They were high risk, high reward,” he recalls. “Prawn exports went from nothing to being the third highest value earner for Indonesia after timber and rubber.”
Now he and his partner, Helen Rayment, who was chief administrator for jewellery group Green+Benz, are taking a risk of their own, heading off to South America as volunteer workers.
“We don’t know whether it will last,” says Peter. “We have both got nice jobs and we are packing them in.
“I’m going to be working on a joint project for VSO, that the consultancy group, Accenture, is funding, and earning a local equivalent wage.
“The contract is for 15 months, but could go to two years
“Helen has to go as a ‘non-volunteering partner,’ but will be looking for voluntary work. The risk is that you come back, don’t have jobs and can’t afford to live in your own house – but sometimes you have to take a risk.”
At 53, and having twice had to guide the Technology Parks through difficult times as a result of recessions, Peter reckons it is the right time to seek a new challenge.
“I feel like I have been full circle and I know the board of directors and staff feel quite confident about the future. The ground has been laid to go forward, the kids have moved on and it’s time for me to move on.”
Peter will be based in the Guyanan capital, Georgetown – currently enjoying temperatures around 28C – but his work for the Caribbean state’s Small Business Bureau will take him into the hinterland, where most of the roads are no more than tracks.
“The project is about securing livelihoods for micro rural enterprises which are struggling to provide enough food to support their own families.
“We will be trying to take them from that state of affairs to producing excess products to go to market to make additional income to provide a better standard of living that is above subsistence levels.”
Part of the project is likely to involve helping Guyanans in the hinterland to develop aquaculture alongside agriculture, harking back to Peter’s earlier experience.
It also involves encouraging an entrepreneurial spirit, providing business advice and helping the people to access finance from their government and the European Union, giving Peter a chance to use his more recent experience.
As part of the volunteering programme, Peter is raising money for VSO.
Anyone wanting to donate should visit: www.justgiving.com/Peter-Wood2013