Knaphill man is UK’s top motor technician

THE son at a successful family-owned garage business in Knaphill picked up a top national accolade last week for his outstanding achievements in the trade.

Mike Harding, of Harding Auto Services at Robin Hood Works, off Robin Hood Road, proved his worth as the UK’s Top Technician in an intensive regime of both theoretical and practical exams.

FAMILY AFFAIR – (front) Woking Mayoress and Mayor Mary and Tony Branagan, Stephanie Raikes-Cairns from IMI, and Top Technician Mike Harding with his mum Beverley, grandmother Stella Davidson and smiling dad Malcolm

FAMILY AFFAIR – (front) Woking Mayoress and Mayor Mary and Tony Branagan, Stephanie Raikes-Cairns from IMI, and Top Technician Mike Harding with his mum Beverley, grandmother Stella Davidson and smiling dad Malcolm

Out of a 1,000 entrants nationwide, and following five months of tasks involving mechanics, electrics and electronics, entrants were eliminated in four testing stages until only a handful remained. At each juncture, the remaining technicians were further scrutinised as they battled it out until they were narrowed down to the final two.

Mike, who is 33 and left Surrey University with a Masters in mechanical engineering, said: “The long process started in January and my nerves were shredded after the last full day of six 50-minute tests. ”

But it was all worth it for gifted Mike when, at a gleaming ceremony held at Mercedez-Benz World in Brooklands, he was awarded the UK’s Top Technician trophy. Mike’s handsome silver salver took pride of place when the Hardings held a private celebration with their staff on Thursday, where Woking Mayor and Mayoress Tony and Mary Branagan and other guests congratulated him.

Also present was Phil Curry, Editor of Aftermarket magazine at Crystal Communications in Kent. Now in their 10th year, the awards were the brainchild of Managing Director Nicola St Clair. The gruelling challenges were set by the Institute of the Motor Industry. Stephanie Raikes-Cairns and Simon White were involved in making sure a high standard of testing would filter through only the very best.

Mike has now taken over the helm of the family business, which dad Malcolm set up in 1979. And, bucking the trend of many small independent companies, the auto service and their client base have grown onwards and upwards over the last 35 years. What started as a modest 1,500 sq ft premises has now expanded to 6,000 sq ft.

Mike has been married to Clare for 10 years and they have two daughters, Beth four and Sophie 12. He worked as a design engineer before joining his dad 10 years ago, but he has been involved since he was a boy. Malcolm has semi-retired but can never fully let go of his love for cars. He now just continues fixing, adjusting and perfecting classic and vintage vehicles.

He said of his son’s achievements: “It is fantastic. Until you are actually in the business, technical ability is very circumspect – you must have a natural aptitude for it. His late grandfather would have been very proud.”

And, as behind all good men, mum Beverley, who deals with advertising and marketing, keeps everything else nicely ticking over. Beverley, who was last year’s Mayor of Surrey Heath, said: “I am really proud Mike has won a nationwide competition. He has just taken on our second apprentice. “Our first is now qualified and, after Cassie Dearling came to us for work experience, she got on so well, she has become our first female apprentice.”

Mike scooped a prize fund worth more than £16,000, including cash, tools and holiday vouchers donated by sponsors. He added: “I don’t think there is a particular winner or loser in the competition – the biggest winner is the industry as we can see it is moving forward. There has been great camaraderie in the contest and I would encourage others to be a part of it.”

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