Nell is from Carlisle and studied at the local Newcastle College Group’s, Carlisle campus in the North of England. At the time of training for the National Finals Nell had already begun a degree at Sheffield Hallam University studying interior architecture and design. She has found that quite a few of her fellow students have come from backgrounds in joinery or construction. A lot of theory she learned in joinery has also cropped up again in the new disciplines she is studying. Having spent her time involved in making structures, Nell is now focusing on designing.
Growing up Nell enjoyed her school career and says, “Maths was always my thing so I enjoyed the figurework involved in joinery and the high level of precision you need to have to be successful.”
Nell’s parents were always supportive of her ambitions and her grandad in particular influenced her, “I had just started college and went to visit my grandparents. Grandad was so excited he sent me home with a selection of his tools.” Nell started late at college but her tutors could see she was determined and committed and so supported her entry.
It was also tutor support that saw her entered into inter-college competitions that were held during the Covid-19 shutdowns. WorldSkills UK Competitions were the next natural step onwards from that and Nell was the only one of her group to take part in the Regional Qualifiers, going on to compete in the National Finals later the same year.
Asked about her experience as a competitor Nell is enthusiastic:
I Had a great time and threw myself in to the process. I really enjoyed the actual project and meeting people in the same skill and at the same point in life. It was a wonderful few days getting to know them and talking with like-minded people.”
Competing stretched Nell’s technical abilities and her time-management aptitude too. “I was out of practice because of Covid keeping us out of the workshop and my timing needed to be kept up so I really had to pick up the pace and maintain quality at same time. I’m a perfectionist so I had to keep questioning myself about whether I should I make this or that stage perfect or move on.
Apart from testing her technical and project management skills Nell found that competing helped her develop confidence in herself, “When I got the email inviting me to the National Finals I finally thought, I must be alright at this”.
Asked what advice she would have for other young people thinking of competing Nell says, “Do it, regardless of how nervous you might be. You don’t get this opportunity many times in life. Meeting lots of people in intensive environment, it’s refreshing to have a single focus on your skill and escape from everything else.”
When Nell finishes her degree she’s looking forward to combining what she’s learned in design and practical skills to help her forge a successful career. “I loved school and learning and want to work with people who can introduce me to new things and I also want the power and control of doing things how I want to do them.”
The gender balance in the joinery trade is improving and out of seven students in Nell’s group at college, three were women. Nell says, “There’s a long way to go, you still feel a bit like the girl in the corner and before people know me, they often mistake my gender by calling me Neil which is annoying.” Having said that, Nell is proud to be a woman in what was previously a male-dominated skill.:
I felt I was representing women, I was empowered to be in a roomful of males and be a representational woman, it felt good being that person.
Asked what she’d like to see the government parents and educators to do to engage more people into apprenticeships or technical education Nell says, “Make it more approachable to women. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have said they wouldn’t want to be a woman walking into an all-male workshop which can put people off the skill entirely. Women are just as capable at being successful in construction as men but the thought of it being in a masculine environment can be very intimidating.”