Willie Pugh likes to build.
Born in Clydebank in 1957, Willie came from a family of stonemasons and bricklayers, becoming a real-life journeyman at 21 years old when he moved to Fife to work on the ongoing construction of Glenrothes. A new town born from the Rothes Colliery predicated to last 100 years before closing in 1962, paving the way for a self-styled Silicon Glen. A business boom that needed premises and houses leaving many an opportunity for a young man who wished to ply his craft.
For Willie, Fife became his adopted home, where he has spent the last 28 years, 16 of them as self-employed in the business trade. He was, in his own words, “a passionate builder,” recalling with genuine excitement his favourite time of year as the close of winter, when he worked on tall buildings in the sharp, icy cold, wearing, shorts and t-shirts accessorised by steel cap boots minus the harness and the hard hat.
Ironically, it was the introduction of health and safety legislation that insisted on the harness and the hardhat that caused his passion for building to wane. And, for the first time in 28 years and at the age of 40, he asked himself a question; what else can I do? Wanting to work with people, Willie initially went to Fife College and signed up for an HNC in Social Care, where he initially toyed with the idea of becoming a Social Worker. An notion and an inspiration, before he “understood what it really meant.”
During this metamorphosis, Willie worked for a number of organisations including Fife Council, the Scottish Society for Autism and Drugs, Alcohol and Psychotherapists Limited (DAPL). Willie describes his initial career as a Care Worker as “Groundhog Day” and felt frustrated that he was unable to enact a real difference to the people “everyone from three years old to older people,” he worked with. However, from this chrysalis came a realisation, it was the transitions within people’s lives that interested him the most.
And it from these experiences that lead him to begin his career in counselling, starting a lifelong love affair with learning when he began a Diploma in Counselling in 2002. When I asked Willie for his thoughts on counselling, his eyes lit up and he spoke enthusiastically and movingly of the privilege of helping others, describing his clients as “amongst the bravest people he has met and having the opportunity see a client flourish is amazing.”
In 2003, to gain more experience, he answered an advert for a Counsellor for Fife Alcohol Support Service, on Tolbooth Street in Kirkcaldy gaining his accreditation with their support and helping clients to improve their quality of life for 11 years as a volunteer.
When I asked Willie about specialising in the area of addictions, he confessed this came from his previous career in the building trade. An industry, in his time, that was plagued by addiction. He described a day in the pub as a Sabbath, where his company would descend on the pub on a Friday to release the tensions of a hardworking week. He recounted the days when work was called off due to bad weather and the choice was to go home or go to the pub and on most days, the pub won. And ironically, it was on Friday, that his first back shift with the Society for Autism fell upon and walking to work, Willie had to walk past the pub full of friends enjoying their Friday ritual. An event he described “as really hard.” The next day, he took the car and it got easier. An experience, he has used over the years, to demonstrate how the past and present collide to enable people to make a conscious decision to change their lives.
Willie did not only change his vocation he also became a lifelong student. Since 2000, Willie has studied every year, taking only a gap year in 2011. He tells me of the surprise of his father, also known as Willie and a bricklayer himself, describing him as the only one of his children who “never did any homework until he left school,” preferring to take the belt from the teacher - if he had too. Willie has specialised in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT), a counselling model, he believes, allows him to challenge and work more collaboratively with clients.
For the last 18 years, Willie has studied, culminating in a Master’s Degree (MBA) in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) from Queen Margaret University in 2016. This year, in what he aims to be his last course, he is doing an Honours Degree in Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). Saying jokingly, as a dedicated Celtic fan, he was in the Champion’s League and now he’s gone back, quite happily, to the Premier League. However, I suspect, Willie will never truly stop learning.
As a student, Willie says it took him many years to feel equal to other students and gain the knowledge he needed to feel confident as a learner and it was this personal transition for him, that led to another bowstring as a Teacher. Starting off with teaching construction at Telford College from 1982 to 1985 and going on to complete COSCA and Supervisors Training Courses in 2009. He also ran, for a period of time, Alcohol Awareness courses with Fife Alcohol Support Service and enjoying the process of taking reluctant participants, attending for punitive reasons and encouraging them to engage with the training.
As we finished chatting, Willie said he still drives past sites and admires the labour put into the building work and I wonder if he realises the impact he has on people’s lives. Bricklayer to Psychotherapist, building and helping others to re-build their lives. Willie agrees with the statement, making a respectful and self-effacing comment in response, “you learn to have courage in your abilities and also the courage to fail.” Today, he’s building again, spending today showing his grandchildren his burgeoning interest in woodwork.
Willie Pugh; engaging, empathic, humble and most of all inspirational. A living example of changing your life - if you want to.
Laying the foundations, one brick at a time.
Willie Pugh, MBA, currently works with Addiction Support and Counselling (ASC) in Falkirk and Signpost Recovery in Alloa and is a member of COSCA (Counselling and Psychotherapy in Scotland).