It’s been nearly twelve months since I started this apprenticeship, but if you’d told me last year that I’d feel so confident and comfortable as a carpenter I wouldn’t have believed you. I really want to have children, and in my mid-twenties the desire to start a family became quite overwhelming. It took over everything else and I became really depressed. I didn’t work for three years. My family were so worried about me. They didn’t know how to help.
My partner is a roofer. He knew that I liked working with wood too, so he suggested that I build a shed – a woman cave for myself in the back garden. It took a while, but I did it, choosing the fixtures and the fittings, giving it skylights and everything. I mentioned that project when I was talking to someone from the Sovereign employment team, and she in turn told me about the adult learners programme for trades apprentices over the age of 25. I couldn’t believe that they would want someone like me to apply: unemployed, with no experience. But I went ahead with it, trying to hold my head high – and they saw something in me.
I’ve learned how to hang doors, change locks, lay flooring, fit cupboards and more. I own a drill and a knife and multi-tools and screwdrivers, and I’m studying hard. People come to me for advice, I can manage my own home, and even better – I’m inspiring other women to try something new. I even talked to a government minister about the importance of diverse trades teams, and making sure social housing is up to scratch.
Working in trades I do get asked quite a lot whether people treat me differently because I’m a woman. To be honest, it’s actually not something I think about very much. I just get on with the job and the team and I try to be friendly and open with everyone. It tends to be the older people who ask me questions, with many of the women telling me that they wish that they could have done what I’m doing.
One day when I was out with the kitchen fitting team we were right in the middle of ripping the old units out, when an older gent stopped me and asked me what I was up to. I explained that I was a carpenter and that I’d be replacing his kitchen. He gave me the full works; that “he’d never have seen such a thing in his day!” But at the end of the week, he sought me out to tell me that I’d done a fantastic job, that he loved the new kitchen. It made me proud.
Working in social housing does expose you to a lot of different people and ways of life. It’s fair to say my eyes have been opened in the last year. I’ve always lived in a Sovereign house growing up, and with my partner, but since starting work I’ve seen the different ways people live, and what they cope with. I think I bring something to the team in my understanding of mental health issues, and in the very fact that I am a woman. There are some circumstances where it has proved an advantage, as women living alone or waiting home alone for a tradesperson said that me being there makes them feel more confident.
One household we visited was a very traditional Muslim home. The person who answered the door to my male work partner was a woman. She instantly moved back inside, shaking her head. She didn’t feel comfortable talking to him without her husband being present. She started to shut the door, but I was able to step forward and find out what needed doing, keeping us to schedule and getting the job done for our resident.
Working has helped me so much to build my own confidence, and see how quickly life can change for the better. There are still bad days, where anxiety can get hold of me, but my mentors and my team-mates really look out for me, I know I can turn to any of them when I need them. And I use work to help me focus too, I want to do a good job for our residents – and there’s nothing like wielding an impact driver to make you feel powerful and in control!
First printed in 24Housing