Jobs for the girls - Ellie Hargreaves meets a group of women who have all made it in roles traditionally occupied by men
PUBLISHED: 00:24 13 June 2013
Can you spot the plumber, the car mechanic, the shepherdess or the undertaker? Ellie Hargreaves meets women thriving in what was once a man’s world.
PHOTOGRAPHY: KIRSTY THOMPSON
One of these women is paid to break into people’s homes. Another spent the morning under the bonnet of a 1930s Singer Le Mans before changing into her gladrags, while you’d probably never guess which was on pall-bearing duty yesterday, or up at the crack of dawn looking after her flock of 1,000 sheep.
Since the First World War when their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons went off to fight, women have been doing the work of men and, although the career choice of every one of these ladies has prompted a raised eyebrow or two, they’re living proof that the days of jobs for the boys are over.
Lancashire Life caught up with a plumber, locksmith, football pundit, mechanic, personal trainer, sheep farmer and funeral director to see what hurdles they’ve had to jump – and like Margaret Thatcher, how much harder they’ve had to work - to make it in what was once a man’s world.
23, from Bolton-le-Sands
Outside work, vintage-lover Annia is rarely seen in anything but a dress, heels and lipstick but from 9-5 she’s in overalls, working as an apprentice mechanic at KSS – a rally preparation and classic car restoration specialists near Kendal.
‘I was brought up with cars and bikes and always knew I wanted to work with them. If I could get my hands on a screwdriver as a child I’d soon find something to take apart and in my spare time I’m doing up a Morris Traveller.
‘It took me a while to find a garage willing to take me on – I was laughed off the forecourt at so many places but when I found my boss I kept on at him until he relented. I work with two men, deal almost only with male customers, and I have a brilliant time. My job is so varied and it helps being petite – the other day they had me in the footwell of a 1956 Tiger Alpine because I was the only one who could fit in it.
‘Anyone who knows me wouldn’t bat an eyelid to see me in my overalls but if I tell a stranger what I do they often don’t believe me because outside of work I’m a huge fan of vintage clothing which tends to be very feminine. I think because I look like a boy at work I feel the need to look as girlish as possible the rest of the time.’
Adele King, Locksmith
42, from Preston
Adele worked in the prison service for 13 years, rising to senior officer at HMP Wakefield - a high-security prison for men – before training as a locksmith last year and launching Ladykings Locksmith. She is now on call 24-7 and has customers across Lancashire.
‘I’ve always worked with my hands and been good at DIY and thought about becoming a plasterer or painter and decorator but when I saw a job advertised for a locksmith I looked into it and realised that with my security background it was the perfect fit.
‘I like the idea of being in a job that I can do until retirement and I’m trying to focus my work on educating people about safety, security and prevention rather than just being someone you call when you need your locks changing.
‘I’m busy, I love my job and I think my being a woman has its advantages – one lady told me she felt much more at ease having me in her house after she had a window broken and I try to reassure and advise all my customers about how best to protect and secure their homes.’
Liz Scott, Shepherdess
23, at Slaidburn
Since losing her father in 2009, Liz has managed a 2,222acre sheep farm with her mum Christine and says the only downside of working seven days a week on the fells is the paperwork. Before then, she trained as a veterinary nurse and studied for a national diploma in animal management, as well as working on farms in New Zealand.
‘Ever since I could walk I’ve been helping out on the farm. When I was seven I started gathering the fells and would get a chocolate bar as a reward; now I work the farm full time and my reward is seeing my stock get a good price at auction and the satisfaction I get in producing the best category sheep I can.
‘I have an older brother, Benjamin, but I was always the one who loved working with livestock. When my dad died in 2009 my mum and I took on all the work and we’ve been lucky to have great support from our neighbours and the community. We’re two girls stuck in the middle of nowhere but we’ve never felt on our own, even though we’ve had some tough winters. You need to be hard, patient and dedicated to be a farmer but I don’t see any reason why a woman can’t make a success of it. I love it because of the variety – one minute I can be lambing a sheep, the next I can be mowing the fields.
‘I have a lot of responsibilities now so sometimes I have to forsake a shopping trip or a night out but I have a great social life through Lancashire Young Farmers’ Club and 90% of my friends are connected to farming in some way so they understand. I can’t imagine doing anything else and, aside from all the bureaucracy and red-tape, I love everything about my job.’
Polly Connor, Plumber
44, from Kendal
Bubbly mum-of-three Polly trained racehorses before becoming a plumber eight years ago. She’s now training to be gas registered and also repairs and services Agas.
‘It all started when I had to call a plumber out to fix the toilet. I’ve always loved figuring out how things work and I was curious what he was going to do so I asked if I could watch him and I was fascinated. When we moved to Kendal I enrolled at Kendal College, got a job soon after and then I went on my own five or six years ago. At first I was a bit apprehensive but I’ve never needed to advertise and get all of my work through word of mouth. I have a lot of female customers and I think elderly ladies perhaps feel a little more comfortable having me in their homes.
‘I absolutely love my work. I’m only small but I used to work with racehorses so I’m reasonably strong and used to smelly things. I’m also used to the way men work and when I work on sites with lots of other tradesmen, or go to the plumbers’ merchants, they treat me like one of the boys, which is great. There are definite advantages to being a woman – men are always offering to carry my toolbox and just the other day a lady called me because she knew I was the only person who’d be able to fit into her loft to fix the problem.
‘My husband loves that I’m practical because he’ll readily admit that he’s the worst person in the world at DIY.’
Sadie Mckeand Personal trainer
41, from Lancaster
At just 5’ 1’, former nurse and primary school teacher Sadie isn’t the obvious choice for a personal trainer, but since setting up Run and Relax she’s whipped countless strapping men into shape.
‘Many of my clients tower over me but I get results. I studied sports massage first, then became a fitness instructor before qualifying as a personal trainer. I was the only woman on my course, among 20 men, and on the first day I stuck out like a sore thumb because I’m so short. I gradually earned their respect though, and soon the guys were coming to me to ask my advice.
‘At school I wasn’t much good at sport but 12 years ago I signed up for a Cancer Research UK Race for Life event. It was 3 miles and I found it hard but I’ve since run six marathons and train every day in between personal training sessions and massage. One of my massage clients is 19 stone and 6ft 5inches – when he turned up for his first appointment he clearly thought I’d make no impact on his muscles but I made sure I made him ache.
‘Men don’t always like being beaten by a woman during events but most think it’s great. I’ve got two teenage boys so I know how men work and I like spending time with them but I’m also trying to encourage more women into fitness. Two years ago a friend and I set up Lancaster Women’s Running Group and we’ve now got 250 ladies on the books of all different abilities.’
Amy Scarisbrick Football commentator
23, from Ormskirk
Former racing driver Amy is an F1 fanatic and football commentator for The Bay Radio. Her work has taken her to Wembley, on jobs for the BBC and Sky and she’s raced – and won – at circuits around the UK.
‘I’ve always been into sport and started karting at the age of 12. When I was 17 I moved up to cars and started racing a Citroen Saxo in a championship that covered tracks including Brands Hatch and Silverstone. I was usually the only girl in among 30 lads but I had the confidence to hold my own. I gave up racing when I began my journalism course at Lancaster University and it was there that I got into football reporting, working for the student radio station. Over the years I’ve worked for the BBC and for Sky during the Olympics. My work takes me all over, including to Wembley, when Barrow won the FA Trophy – definitely one of my career highlights so far.
‘My work is such good fun that I don’t see it as a job. I’ve worked hard to gain the respect of the men I come into contact with – both when I was racing and now, in my career. I’m usually the only girl in the press box at matches but being female in a male-dominated arena has never held me back; if anything I have a better relationship with the football managers that I speak to.
‘How many girls can say they have raced at Silverstone or commentated on their team at Wembley by the age of 20? I hope to get back into racing soon and split my time between that and reporting. My ultimate dream is to work in Formula 1 and I hope that by working hard and showing my commitment I’ll get there regardless of my sex.’
Belle Davies Undertaker
21, from Clitheroe
Belle quit her job as a beauty therapist to follow a dream that recently saw her promoted to Funeral Director at The Co-operative Funeral Care. Her work sees her conducting around six funerals a week as well as carrying out pall bearing duties, transferring bodies and preparing the deceased for viewings and ceremonies. Belle, whose job is based in Keighley, studied forensic science, stone carving and plans to qualify as an embalmer.
‘It all started when I was doing someone’s make-up and thought to myself ‘it would be a lot easier if you didn’t move so much’. It started me thinking that perhaps there was an alternative to beauty therapy, which I wasn’t finding fulfilling. I talked it through with my mum and started doing some research but it wasn’t easy to find work because I had no experience and there are no college courses that teach you how to be a funeral director.
‘Instead, I began studying for a BTEC National Diploma in forensic science, gaining a triple distinction, and I spent a further year at university studying forensic science and criminal investigation.
‘It hasn’t been easy: I spent a year looking for a job and sent my CV out to hundreds of funeral homes before finding out about the Co-operative’s apprentice scheme. I beat 1,500 candidates to secure one of nine places and I’ve never looked back.
‘I’m a caring person and I love working with people, including the deceased. People are always surprised when I tell them what I do and they always want to ask questions. For me it’s the perfect job – I never dread going in to work and although it can be emotionally draining, it’s an honour to work with families through their most difficult times.’
Tell us your story
Are you a woman working in a man’s world and have an interesting story to tell? Or are you a man in a job traditionally done by women? Drop us a line at email@example.com
Meanwhile, many thanks to the Lancaster House Hotel for helping us to set up this photo shoot.