I've always had an obsession with the English countryside and old buildings. I did a lot of work with heritage in Australia before I moved to the UK in 2014. It was a Project Management role working on the Houses of Parliament that first drew me to WSP. Project Management can be a male-orientated business, but even from the interview stage, there was a feeling of inclusion at the company.
My first project at WSP was the repair of the leaky roof on the Houses of Parliament. It is the largest building in the world with a cast iron roof, or roofs – there are 26 of them altogether, made up of thousands of metre square tiles that weigh around 65kg each. When the old Houses of Parliament burned down in 1834, one of the stipulations of the new roof was that it had to be fireproof. Architects Charles Barry and Augustus Pugin based their design on the cast iron roof on the Patagonia in Paris in 1840 – and it's not had any major refurbishment or repairs since.
For the first time in history, each tile was carefully removed and transported to a workshop outside of Sheffield, where they were stripped back and assessed to see if they could be fixed. Around 90% of the tiles were restored and returned to London, and roughly 10% were beyond repair. It's a labour and material-intensive process – the project has taken nearly a decade to complete, but it's sustainable as we're giving the existing roof another 100-year lifespan.
Although this is a great result for such a complex task, there were some challenges along the way, and it was a learning curve for everyone involved. We discovered a rushed repair that had been hastily carried out after World War Two bombings using concrete instead of cast iron, which caused more damage than good. As a Project Manager, I learned that you can't know everything about a project, that no one expects you to either, and there is always an expert you can bring in to work on specialist tasks.
I want everyone to feel comfortable and included at work, which is why a group of us created VIBE, which stands for Visibility and Inclusion in the Built Environment. The WSP LGBTQ+ employee network started with five people in a pub in Farringdon in London, and now we have 160 people involved all over the country. We’re planning to focus more on intersectionality so it's not just LGBTQ+ colleagues in one group with colleagues in other networks working in isolation. It's everyone working together to make everyone feel included.
Over the past seven years, I am most proud of the culture change I have seen and been a part of. While working on the Houses of Parliament, the team cared so much about each other and the project. There was never any blame culture and instead, we focused our time and efforts on finding the best solution. The work will be completed in Spring 2022. It will be the end of an era, but it’s been an incredible experience to bring back old techniques that would otherwise be lost in time.