The Merry Month: One Million Mentors

Robert Merry One Million Mentors

Robert Merry, MCIOB, is an independent Stone Consultant. He ran his own stone company for 17 years before becoming first an independent project manager and now a consultant. He is also an expert witness in disputes regarding stone and stone contracts. 0207 502 6353 / 07771 997621.

Robert Merry has joined up with ‘One Million Mentors’ and is helping a youngster achieve their ambition of becoming a designer. He has been surprised by what he has learnt helping someone else to learn.

Earlier in the summer I joined the government education initiative ‘One Million Mentors’.

It’s a scheme that, according to its literature, has been devised to help “accelerate life opportunities for young people in some of the most deprived areas in the UK”.

There’s training and seminars to help get you up to speed, providing a sound framework for becoming a mentor.

It's not the whole package. You have to keep learning through the process. But the training provides you with the initial ‘wings to fly’.

Once you’re paired with a ‘mentee’, the mentoring lasts for a year, meeting monthly at their school.

I was paired with a 14-year-old who wants to be a designer.

I don’t think they knew what sort of designer they wanted to be exactly, but their passion had been fuelled by watching endless TV programmes on house refurbishments, transformations, new builds, Worst House in the Street, Location, Location... you get the picture. The pandemic left lots of time for school kids to fill.

At first I was unsure if the mentoring idea would work. I mean, there are 46 years between us. How was I going to relate to this person. Or them to me? What could I possible say that would be of any use? Stone talk, sure. Ask me anything and if I don’t know the answer I can usually make something up that sort of sounds credible. But design? Have you seen my office?

But once I got over the self-doubt, I applied the knowledge I had acquired during the training and some experience of a previous mentoring relationship and we started on the journey.

“The way’s deep and the weather sharp,” as T S Elliot wrote. But it’s amazing how concentration on someone else’s passion and a need to assist them heightens awareness and accumulates knowledge.

It’s not entirely true to say design is an alien world to me. I had exhibited at Decorex in the past and at the Surface Design show.

When I first started out in the interior stone sector all our work came through designers – Kelly Hoppen, Nina Campbell... people like that. Old names now, I guess, but highly respected.

I’ve started to notice information about design shows through emails and advertisements. I even began to watch those same TV programmes my mentee had drawn inspiration from. I’ve seen most at some point before, but now I have a reason to indulge, other than just passing time.

And the more I dig into design the bigger shovel I need.

It’s become apparent I can travel the world visiting design shows. Here’s a few for this autumn: Design London, 21-24 September (boasting a ‘jam-packed programme of engaging content and a highly curated selection of sought after design brands from around the globe); Decorex, 9-12 October (‘the interior design show for professionals’).

And between the London exhibitions you can visit Helsinki Design Week, 1-11 September (‘…looks to the theme of openness… and aims to explore questions surrounding sustainability, curiosity and transparency...”); Stockholm Design Week, 5-11 September; Maison & Object, Paris, 8-12 September; Light+Building in Frankfurt, Germany, 2-6 October (‘the world’s largest trade fair for lighting and building services engineering’).

Then a quick train to Eindhoven in the Netherlands to come together with ‘over 2,600 designers and creatives... to showcase the latest in design and innovation’ at the Dutch Design Week, 22-30 October.

And if your design itch is still not fully scratched by the end of November, you could try Design Miami 30 November-4 December (‘…bringing together designers, curators, critics and gallerists in the Florida sunshine’).

The mentor/mentee relationship has to be allowed to grow and develop. Small things like being on time and not missing appointments are key to building trust and showing the relationship is important.

But the biggest challenge for me is learning how to listen. I mean, really listen.

And not to judge. No jumping in to give an answer or my solution. But just being there in the moment, as a critical friend.

It’s a great experience so far and I feel very humbled to be involved.

If you’re interested in using your knowledge and experience to help a young person and you’re up for learning something new, go to

Go on. The Florida sunshine in November? Who’d have thought.