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Life after oil: From North Sea ships to Aberdeen Geek Retreat

© Supplied by Design team, Gemma Daberdeen geek retreat
Scott Leslie, Geek Retreat owner.

Scott Leslie admits his hands were trembling as typed up a letter quitting his job overseeing a fleet of North Sea ships.

The 34-year-old, who fell in love with science fiction as a child watching Star Trek, was leaving a career he loved and boldly going to follow his dreams.

Now, he’s putting the finishing touches to Geek Retreat – a new comic book shop, cafe and gathering place right in the heart of Aberdeen.

Despite some nerves, the new dad is convinced he’s doing the right thing.

And with less than a month to go until the grand opening, Scott explained what led to the unusual career change.

What led Scott to open Aberdeen Geek Retreat?

As we meet Scott, the former Game store at 177 Union Street is in the midst of a transformation.

Surrounded by freshly-painted purple and yellow walls, the former Ellon Academy pupil tells us this is an idea that has been brewing for a while.

© Supplied by Scott Leslie
Scott in his previous job as a marine superintendent.

As a teenager, he would go into Aberdeen to indulge in his hobbies, like playing Warhammer.

But at that time, Scott had no intentions to turn it into a career.

From school he went to Robert Gordon University to study computer science, and then spent a year in the Army with IT specialists the Royal Corps of Signals.

He went on to work for North Star shipping for a decade, climbing to the position of superintendent.

In his job, Scott had command over a fleet of five vessels – managing crews, budgets and organising their movements.

Passion for games provided relief from ‘hectic’ job

By day Scott was a mild-mannered office worker who “disguised” his real passion for geek culture, keeping his interests secret from his colleagues.

But by night, he would let the “true self” loose… And he sees the career change as a way of celebrating his “greater freedom of expression”.

Scott said: “It had been an enjoyable career, but when Covid hit the ships stopped being sent to sea and I had time to think.

“As you get older, you find it harder to do the things that you like.

“I had this very hectic job, then I would come home and spend hours doing dungeon master prep, preparing for my next Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

“Then I started to think about the lack of spaces for people to come together, community centres and church halls are often closing…

“I realised I could create an event and leisure hub where people could congregate with other like-minded individuals.”

© Supplied by Paul Glendell
Work is coming along nicely at the new Aberdeen Geek Retreat.

Scott took his “nest egg” and, hands shaking with nerves, made one of the biggest decisions of his life.

“I decided to leave this difficult, high-pace career at sea to do this…”

Scott had been thinking about opening an independent shop, but instead opted to become a franchisee of the UK-wide Geek Retreat network.

What makes new Union Street venue different?

Aberdeen’s Granite Mile is in a state of disarray at the moment.

Stepping outside his shop, Scott can point out several “to let” signs in the immediate vicinity.

It’s the same the whole way along.

“UK-wide, there is a decline in retail,” he acknowledges.

“It’s all about community, we will be reaching out to groups to see if they want to use the space here.

“And we will be open until 9pm so it’s a place where people can come after work to play games and socialise. We will be an inclusive environment.”

Scott’s bright ideas for new shop

As well as selling a range of fantasy items, there will be a cafe offering sci-fi-themed snacks when the new Aberdeen Geek Retreat opens.

Meanwhile, a room downstairs will be decorated like a dungeon, so that Dungeons and Dragons players can “breathe in the atmosphere” while enjoying the game.

And the venue will regularly stage trading card competitions, along with various other events aimed at fostering that community spirit.

The development comes as city leaders say that diversifying away from traditional retail outlets could be one way to bring Union Street back to life.

Geek Retreat aims to be a big part of that.

Flurry of applicants wanted to work at Scott’s new venture

Scott revealed he had 250 applications for a handful of roles at the new store in just two weeks, a sobering reminder of the job losses in Aberdeen in recent times.

When we visited, future store supervisor Stuart Ingram was there – though his actual job title is a bit different…

In Geek Retreat, supervisors are known as “acolytes”, managers are “warlocks” and as owner, Scott is “wizard of the north”.

Stuart was among dozens of John Lewis employees left jobless when the Aberdeen institution closed last spring.

© Supplied by Paul Glendell
Scott Leslie

He and Scott have already bonded over their shared interests, and chat happily about Star Wars while overseeing the revamp.

And they will soon be joined by a woman who is so keen to work there that she is relocating from Shetland for the opportunity!

Scott is upbeat when discussing his plans, but does he have any anxieties about plunging his savings into the city centre venture?

“As with all new business owners, there’s a moment where I’ll go ‘I’m taking a risk… I hope I’ve not given up an amazing career for a mistake’.

“North Star shipping was winning contracts left, right and centre when I left.

“I could have stayed there a long time.

“Also I’m a father, I’ve got a five-month-old baby at home, but my wife is supporting this decision.

“I was trembling writing my resignation letter, it wasn’t an easy move.

“I look back to when I was growing up in Ellon as a young sci-fi fan, I’d have come into Aberdeen for something like this.

“I believe there are plenty people in Aberdeen and the shire willing to pay for this experience.”

Geek Retreat will burst into life in a blaze of superhero-themed glory on Saturday, February 19, with visitors encouraged to dress up for the occasion.

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