UK’s first all-female bricklaying contest builds towards gender parity
Leading building products manufacturer Forterra launched Bricklaying Forterra Females (BFF) earlier this month, a groundbreaking competition that took place as part of a wider construction skills day at Havering College in Essex.
BFF, the UK’s first ever all-female bricklaying contest, kicked off National Apprenticeship Week and National Careers Week, and fell just four days before International Women’s Day on 8th March.
BFF is a brand new national competition which aims to find the best female student bricklayers in the country, whilst encouraging more girls and women to consider careers in bricklaying or construction. According to CITB, statistics show that women currently make up just 2% of hands-on construction workers in the UK, a figure which has barely changed for over 15 years.
The contest saw female student bricklayers from colleges across the UK compete for six hours to build an International Women’s Day-themed competition piece. Christian Hatherall-Good, Head of Construction Curriculum at Brooklands College in Surrey, and David Jones, Senior Instructor for Construction at Havering College, judged the pieces and announced 17-year-old Naomi Hamilton of Brooklands College as the winner. Second place was taken by Charlotte Springer, 18, also of Brooklands College, while 23-year-old Tangina “Tango” Choudhury of Barnfield College in Luton earned third place. Tiffany Atkinson, 17, who studies at Havering College, received Highly Commended for her competition piece.
Winner Naomi, who is currently in the first year of her Level 2 Diploma in Bricklaying at Brooklands College, has recently secured an apprenticeship with Lee Marley Brickwork which she is due to begin later this month. She also took first place in FIS Skills’ “I Built This” 2018 competition, but BFF was the first hands-on, deadline-based contest she had taken part in. Naomi’s favourite aspect of bricklaying is the simple satisfaction of laying each brick, and she is keen to continue with the trade in the future.
Naomi said: “It was great fun taking part in BFF. I felt pretty tired after travelling to the college, but it was brilliant to see the other girls getting stuck in too.”
First runner-up Charlotte is studying Level 1 Diploma in Bricklaying at Brooklands College. Charlotte had never previously taken part in any bricklaying competitions, but she felt confident and unfazed by the pressure of competing. Hands-on skills are second nature to her: she is already skilled in fencing, paving, gardening and more, and plans to buy her own van in the summer with which to take on private jobs.
Charlotte said: “I’ve always loved hands-on work, and there’s such satisfaction in standing back at the end of a day’s work and looking at what you’ve made. My mum and uncle are both handy and brilliant at DIY, and they’ve been my main motivation and support. I help my uncle on jobs sometimes and his colleagues are full of encouragement for me too.”
Charlotte and Naomi are the only females on their college courses, and Charlotte adds: “We’re always supporting and learning from each other. It’s great to be able to do this, rather than rely on men!”
Tangina, or “Tango” as she is known, is studying Level 1 Brickwork at Barnfield College. She has wanted to build her own home since childhood and, as she grew older, this dream turned into a determination to succeed in construction. She finds the idea that construction is a boys’ career “silly”, as she feels that girls can achieve exactly the same as boys.
Tango said: “I put extra work in at college to stay ahead on my course. My family initially had expectations that I would pursue a different career, but they realised I was committed to construction and they’re supportive of my choice.”
First runner-up Charlotte Springer, winner Naomi Hamilton and second runner-up
Tiffany, who studies Trowel Occupations Bricklaying Level 1 at Havering College, was inspired to go into bricklaying by her father, who worked as a bricklayer and often had projects at home which Tiffany helped him create. He is extremely proud of Tiffany and continues to give her lots of bricklaying advice. Tiffany is keen to secure an apprenticeship on a building site next year and progress to Level 2.
Tiffany said: “I love my course and the college – everyone here accepts you for who you are and pushes you to do your best. It’s easy to understand why bricklaying used to be seen as a job for men only, but it’s not now. Some girls might be put off bricklaying because of the number of boys on construction courses, but boys and girls have the same abilities and can do exactly the same work.”
Bob Noseda, Sector Skills Advisor at Havering College, said: “We’re very proud to have hosted the first BFF competition. Every national competition has to start somewhere, and we will hopefully be able to look back on today as a legacy event.”
Kerri Chambers, a former student bricklayer who is now Assistant Quantity Surveyor for a London construction firm, and who won a bricklaying competition at Havering College while still training, said: “The industry is always looking for more people to join up, and these days there are more options for women who want to get involved and build a career in the sector.
“It’s great that a company like Forterra is helping to raise the profile of women in bricklaying by organising the BFF competition. I began my career as a bricklayer when I was 19, and ten years on I’ve managed to progress in the industry. I put my success down to having a background in the trades; it’s hard work, but it can lead to a satisfying and rewarding career.”
The Forterra-run competition was supported by the Brick Development Association, the Association of Brickwork Contractors and Havering College. Forterra donated its iconic London Bricks to Havering College for use during the competition.
Stephen Harrison, Chief Executive of Forterra, said: “Construction has always traditionally been seen as male-dominated, but we hope and expect to see increasing numbers of women working across the sector. This initiative aims to inspire more females to explore the opportunities the industry has to offer.”
Forterra is committed to building confidence and inspiring ambition in the next generation of bricklayers and construction workers. This year Forterra is establishing London Brick Construction Hubs at six further education colleges across the country, in preparation for which it has donated London Bricks to each of the colleges. BFF will be followed on 29th March by Forterra’s Best in London Brick competition, which is open to professional bricklayers and will also be held at Havering College.
For more information about Forterra, visit www.forterra.co.uk. You can also follow the company on Facebook and Twitter via @ForterraUK and on LinkedIn.