This is the second in a series of interviews with local authority building control professionals.
Our interviewee today is Angela Edwards from Bassetlaw District Council.
How did your interest in construction develop?
In the olden days (1960’s - 70’s), when I was about 12, a teacher asked everyone in my class to tell her what they wanted to do when they left school. I had been building things with Lego for years, so whether that had anything to do with it, I don’t know, but I told her I wanted to be an architect; her response was “Oh you can’t do that, you’re a girl”.
A bit of a shock, especially as it came from a female teacher! Well everyone in the class laughed, I can remember feeling embarrassed and wished I’d made up something or said “I want to be a teacher, like you”.
I had always enjoyed helping my dad with his DIY projects and he encouraged me to learn, so that I would be able to do things for myself when I eventually had my own house. Dad was really good at letting me use his tools, even though I’m left-handed and a bit clumsy (because most tools are designed for right-handed people!).
Around the age of 14 I discovered the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which opened up a new world in lots of ways; I progressed from Bronze, through Silver and achieved Gold, with Home Improvements as my “Skill”.
Because there wasn’t the awareness or opportunities for women in construction that there is now (and I had no idea where or how to find out), when I left school at 18 the closest I could get to working in construction was as a secretary at a brick-making factory. I loved visiting the works, talking to the technicians and seeing the process of bricks being made. No job opportunities there for a girl though, because it was the 70’ – 80’s and male/female career paths were still quite traditional.
How did you end up in local authority Building Control and how long have you been involved?
After a while of feeling unfulfilled I noticed an advert for a trainee at the Council, applied, was successful and started work in Improvement Grants. I was the oldest trainee they’d ever had at that time. My manager and colleagues encouraged me to tackle any job and their advice was invaluable throughout my HNC.
An opportunity came up to move into Building Control as a Trainee Building Control Surveyor, so I started there in 1984. I enrolled on the Institute of Building Control course at Chesterfield College, under the tutelage of the eminent Geoff Statham, and achieved the grade of Member of the Institute. I must say that I didn’t experience any sexism from staff or classmates, and it was great to learn about something I loved.
I enjoyed going to the monthly Institute of Building Control meetings; I met many experienced and knowledgeable Building Control Officers, who were generous with their advice and guidance. In April 1994 I was honoured to be installed as the Institute’s first female District Chairman.
So never being bored with the job, always having been fortunate to work with brilliant people, means that I’ve been in Building Control for 32 years.
What’s your current role?
Building Control Manager for Bassetlaw District Council.
What’s a typical day like?
The usual management responsibilities, but I like to keep up my practical skills, so will do some plan checking and inspections when the opportunity arises. I usually have a few calls from clients when they’re having trouble with compliance or contractor issues and enjoy being able to help them.
What have your favourite project/s been?
A new supermarket - it was very rewarding to be part of the team, from soggy, abandoned flood plain to high-tech structure which is a key part of the local economy. Every time I drive past it or go shopping there I feel proud to have been involved. I enjoy seeing old buildings rejuvenated and was involved in the renovation and rebuilding of a windmill tower and cottage to create a business centre for small local firms. Another satisfying one was the renovation and refurbishment of a Grade II Roman Catholic church originally designed by Matthew Hadfield for the Duke of Norfolk.
Are you working on anything interesting at the moment?
Every day is interesting; even small domestic projects, because each one has its own challenges. But at the moment the main project I’m working on with my team is a long-term one to convert and modernise an old office building into a hub for use by multiple agencies.
Interesting, but frustrating, is our ongoing quest to move on to paperless working. We’re taking it slowly and have made some significant advances. I have a team that’s willing to try anything, as long as it works for our clients, and I’m very proud of them.
What do you like most about being in Building Control?
Meeting people, relationships that have built over the years; facilitating projects from an idea to completion on site; seeing buildings around the area that provide value to the community and knowing that I’ve played a part; improving our environment by way of the Building Regulations and the guidance that goes with them.
Do you have any funny stories from your time in Building Control?
Apart from often being mistaken for a nosy neighbour or the Avon lady when I arrived on site, none that I could repeat in polite company.