Catherine Clarke on choosing a career in welding
PUBLISHED: 00:00 03 May 2019
The remarkable story of one woman who followed her dream – to become a welder. She spoke to Rachel Ryan at a special event designed to inspire young females.
'I quit my office job. It was the biggest gamble of my life, but now I have my dream job as an industrial welder – and hearing my son proudly tell people what I do makes it all worthwhile.'
Catherine Clarke is one of a tiny number of women who work as industrial welders and, as you can imagine, she is used to raised eyebrows and the occasional stunned silence when the 33-year-old reveals her job.
Now, she is using her experience to inspire other women to follow their dreams and break down the myth that industries, such as fabrication and engineering, are just for men.
Catherine, who lives in Longridge and works for Blackpool Skip Hire, was just one of 100 high-profile women from sport, science, arts and business across the Fylde coast to play their part in inspiring local young women to “smash glass ceilings” at the first-ever International Women's Day Festival in Blackpool, organised and hosted by The Washington Group.
'I was helping a friend build a shed,' she says. 'He passed me the torch and asked me to weld a part. I said I had never done it before and, jokingly, he said “well, you better learn”. So, I had a go and I found myself really enjoying it. Within weeks I completed a four-week intensive introductory welding course at Myerscough College and loved it. Later I managed to persuade Recycling Lives in Preston to donate some bits of steel to practice with.'
Unfortunately, Catherine's enthusiasm was short-lived. 'I witnessed a fatal road traffic accident. It was terrible and I found myself in a really dark place, I reached rock bottom in my life and struggled with everyday life.
'As the recovery of my mental health progressed, I started putting things into perspective.
'I asked to do some volunteer work one day a week with Recycling Lives to help me get through the course that I had started before the accident.'
As Catherine started to get her life back on track, she decided it was time to grab life with both hands. 'I'd had a stable job for over five years and quitting it all felt like a big risk with commitments of a mortgage, household bills and my son.
' My parents were very unsettled but I didn't want to spend the rest of my life regretting not trying something new and a little adventurous.'
And, a few months later, Catherine took the plunge and risked it all by giving up her job.
'I worked nights in a bar to pay for everything at home and my college fees and I really felt like I was worth something again.' Her fiancé Michael was her rock. 'He never stopped believing in me when I had moments of doubt.'
Dressed elegantly and with a friendly aura, the female welder and mum to Connor, aged 11, adds: 'By investing everything into my dream, I was able to achieve it. And, little things like when Connor came home from school with a card he had made which said “Miss Little Pink Welder is my mum”... It's great to know that he is proud of me too.'
Catherine, who races bangers in her spare time, was just one of the role models at the Women's International Day Festival at Blackpool Sixth Form alongside Fylde's Pentathlon GB medallist Dr Nic Robinson, Kate Shane of Merlin entertainment, Tracy Manning of Fylde Council, Andrea Kaye of Wyre Council and Sharon Senior, Director of North West Employers.
This part of the global International Women's Day was launched with a crowd of more than 400 young women from schools across the Fylde Coast.
Deborah Terras, director of the Washington Group, said: 'It was great to see young girls enjoying themselves, having such positive experiences and leaving with an action plan to make a difference to their lives – whether that be a career to embark on, or trying new things and ultimately believing that they can do anything if they set their mind to it.'
Blackpool-born comic Ruth Cockburn joined Kelly Massey, Team GB 4 x 400m Olympic champion, and Christine Hodgson, chair of Blackpool Pride and Place Partnership and chair of Capgemini UK plc in officially opening the event.
The stand-up comic, who regularly performs across Europe and has billed at the Apollo, says: 'I have been told for the past 15 years that women are not funny!
'I have turned up at gigs and people have asked me if I'm the girlfriend of one of the acts. I'm proud to say “No mate, I'm your headline act tonight!”
'Events like these are important to let young women know they can be what they want to be, give them a voice and let them know that they will be listened to.'
The event will definitely be back in 2020 because, as Deborah Terras says: 'It made such a huge impact in helping to pave the way for equality and gender parity.'