By Community Reporter Laura Hillier
On Saturday 31st August, Bristol Women’s Voice hosted the “Women in Trade” event, in partnership with the M Shed. The aim of this event was to shine a light on the women working in the skilled trades and in construction, both now and in the past. The packed programme also sought to raise awareness of the ways in which women and girls can start careers in these fields, and offered opportunities to get involved with a series of exciting, live demonstrations from tradeswomen.
The event kicked off with introductions from BWV’s Sandra Gordon (event organiser) and Karen Garvey from the M Shed, before a keynote speech from Bristol’s Lord Lieutenant Peaches Golding OBE. In her speech, the relevance of the event for Bristol at this time was noted – investment in construction in our city is continuing to rise, and to meet this demand we desperately need to increase the number of people working in the trades. The scene was set further by a film created by videographer and BWV volunteer Olivia Plato, which featured several women currently working or teaching the skilled trades. The film captured some of the obstacles faced by women working in these roles and the efforts to overcome these, as well as the positive aspects of a trades career and learning practical skills.
Next up was a talk from Jane Duffus, the author of “The Women Who Built Bristol”. She gave us a whistle stop tour of the “resourceful, resilient and strong women that helped to build the Bristol that we know and love today”, including factory workers, trade unionists and suffragists. Hearing the stories of the women of the past who have helped to get us where we are today was inspiring – I feel that we can all look towards their strength and courage as we move towards the future.
These stories were followed by a panel discussion focusing on the political and economic barriers to working in the trades faced by women, and how these could be overcome. Our panel – chaired by Jackie Longworth (chair of the Women’s Equality Network, Fair Play South West) – was passionate about the cause, and included: Karin Smyth (Labour MP for Bristol South); Fadiya Ahmed (Women in Property); Pepper Barney (BiBO); and Tracey Blythe (Airbus and Unite). The panel members shared their personal experiences of discrimination in the field and emphasised the importance of trade apprenticeships for girls (and boys) in Bristol, as well as other initiatives which could improve upon the current situation.
After a quick break, we were also lucky enough to have a fantastic Q&A session with women who currently work in the trades. Chaired by Nicki Norman (Women’s Aid), the session featured: Sarah Holt (an Electrician); Deborah Stanley-Jones (a Plumber – owns the business the Plumbher); Caroline Henn (a founder of Practical Women and new CIC BePractical); and Lisa Stone (Electrician, Lead IQA and Lecturer at the City of Bristol College). Hearing the women speak about overcoming challenges they’d faced and what they love about their careers was incredibly inspiring. Questions from the audience showed that there is a real interest in a trades career from women in Bristol, and panel members were able to offer their expert advice, experience and reassurances about getting started.
The afternoon of the event was also very lively, as it offered several different choices for workshops and activities. One of these was a historical walk around Bristol, specially curated by Sheila Hannon. In this walk, Kim Hicks depicted Sarah Guppy, whose contributions to bridge design have been much-overlooked in Bristol’s history. There were also several practical demonstrations, which showcased the skills of workshop leaders and gave attendees a taste of the trades. For instance, the tutors of Bristol Women’s Workshop demonstrated some woodwork alongside their students, and Sarah Holt delivered a workshop about the skills involved in being an electrician. In addition, the afternoon included a demonstration by Joanna Williams, artist blacksmith at her forge “Fire Iron Art” in the Underfall Yard. Joanna showed us how the form and texture of metal can be manipulated using heat, and a few women even gave it a go themselves! Several stalls were also available for attendees to drop-in and access key information and advice about how to get into the trades, including: Paul Collins from Certsure (also representing the Jobs for Girls campaign); Caragh Salisbury of BePractical; and several women from the earlier panel discussion.
I feel proud to have volunteered as part of this event, and personally feel enormously grateful to the people that contributed their knowledge, skills and commitment to the day. They are all wonderful role models for women and girls looking to enter the trades or construction as a career, and they are truly deserving of a big thank you from everyone at Bristol Women’s Voice!