On International Women’s Day 2021, we are shining the spotlight on some of the women involved in the Shakespeare North Playhouse project.

There are many different organisations and roles that play a crucial part in planning, designing, constructing and bringing to life a theatre fit for the 21st century.

Here we take a look at some of those roles and find out about sustainable construction, inspiring the next generation of workers and even how Formula One has played a role in this project!

Rhiannon Powell, Architect at Austin-Smith:Lord Ltd

Rhiannon has been working on The Shakespeare North Playhouse project for over three years. In her role, Rhiannon manages the day-to-day design requirements of the project, leads on design coordination with the engineers and specialist designers and works closely with the main contractor on site, Kier.

Rhiannon Powell

What are your thoughts on The Shakespeare North Playhouse project?

The Shakespeare North Playhouse is a unique project in itself, the theatre endeavours to maintain historical accuracy down to the finest details, whilst providing a high-quality performance space that maintains modern standards.

The nature of this project has given us an amazing opportunity to work with skilled specialists and craftsmen and showcase traditional construction methods and materials at the heart of the theatre.

What is your experience of working in the construction industry, an area which may be seen as traditionally male dominated?

The construction industry is well known as being a male dominated industry, but I strongly believe there has been a shift in recent years. It is often acknowledged that our Shakespeare North project team has a remarkably equal male and female representation. Whilst this is still unusual, it is hugely positive and encouraging. It is crucial that women entering the industry have the opportunity to work alongside experienced female colleagues.

In my experience, architectural education and practice is a discipline that is slightly ahead of the curve in terms of equal representation within the construction industry. There is a definite change occurring, and we look forward to teams like this one, being the norm.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

I would absolutely encourage them, there are so many opportunities available. If you have an interest in design, those skills can be applied to roles within every team on the project.

A career in Architecture can offer variety, interest and inspiration. There are both practical and academic ways that your skills and interests can be applied. The speed at which technology is developing our methods in the industry offers constant opportunity for emerging specialisms.

For anyone considering a career in Architecture, I would recommend gaining as much experience as you can during your studies, spend time with practices of different sizes and gain a variety of experience of different scale projects. The more experience you have in practice, the more that can help you apply the skills you will be taught at university.

Andrea Hawksey, Clerk of Works for Knowsley Council

Andrea, who is from Kirkby has lived in Knowsley all her life. Her role is similar to that of a Building Control Officer, but without the statutory powers. She is involved in all stages of the build from foundations to roof and everything that happens internally and externally during construction of the Playhouse. As a Clerk, Andrea works closely with everyone on site from the site team and tradespeople to the client and design team so building a good rapport with everyone is essential in her role.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

If you go into the private sector, the industry can pay very well, however the hours are long and you may have to travel anywhere within your region, this can make work life balance difficult, especially if you have a family.  Sometimes you need a thick skin and let people know you won’t take any nonsense, but the camaraderie you build on site is second to none. I like being outdoors and not just in an office all day. The projects are also varied, I have worked on jobs for education, health, leisure and retail sectors, each time with a new team, so you are constantly meeting new people and learning new skills.

What is your experience of working in the construction industry, an area which may be seen as traditionally make dominated?

I have worked in and around the construction industry for twenty years mainly as a site manager, in that time I have worked for a major house builder and a main contractor as well as local authority.  A couple of the jobs people may know are the Mann Island buildings (next to the Liver Building) and Asda Huyton. The construction industry as a whole is still very much male dominated frequently, I am the only female on site, so it is lovely to work on something with so many different women in a variety of roles.

Rachel Stones, Senior Lighting Designer at AECOM (Specialist Lighting team)

In her role, Rachel is responsible for all front of house areas within the Playhouse, including the theatre itself. Also all of the exterior lighting such as the feature uplighting of the front facade. Rachel has worked closely with the architects to create an aesthetically pleasing lighting design which compliments the interior design of the space and also achieves the required light levels.

Rachel Stones

What is unique about your work for the Playhouse?

The lighting for the theatre was a particularly challenging part of this project as we needed to achieve the required light levels from a safety aspect whilst keeping the aesthetics of the traditional Jacobean theatre. To achieve this we developed a bespoke design of backlighting a wooden lattice so we could hit the target light levels without the fixtures being visible.

As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, is there anything about your experience that you would like to highlight?

During my studies my classes were predominately male and when I joined AECOM the team was all male. However in just the short time I have spent in the industry I am seeing big changes and there are more and more women now working within the construction industry.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

Go for it!! Don’t turn down any opportunities presented to you. Work is a major part of your life so it’s important to be doing something you enjoy that continues to challenge you and where there is always a goal to be aiming for.

Sarah Wilcock, Associate Structural Engineer at Mott MacDonald

How have you been involved in The Shakespeare North Playhouse project?

My role on the project has been to manage and lead the development of the structural design of the building. I first became involved in 2016 when the architectural design was at concept stage and the wider project design team had just been appointed. I worked with the project design team (including Architects, M+E Engineers, Theatre Consultants, Acoustic and Fire Engineers) to take the concept design forward and develop it to a fully designed, co-ordinated and functioning building.

As a structural engineer my job is to design the structure (columns, walls, floors, roof etc) to support the loads which will be applied to it. Essentially, I’m responsible for making sure the building stands up.

Is there anything unique about your work for The Shakespeare North Playhouse?

Yes! There are several structural designs that are unusual, if not unique. Firstly, we have an independent timber structure that forms the 350 seat theatre which is being built inside our concrete auditorium box structure. It’s a structure within a structure. The timber theatre structure has been designed and built by historic timber frame reconstruction specialist McCurdy & Co. The concrete auditorium box has already been constructed, and now the timber frame is going to be built inside this concrete box.

Secondly, the roof structure over the auditorium consists of long span trusses that support three floors – the technical level, attic level and the roof. The technical level is hanging from the trusses above, to allow the octagon shape of the theatre ceiling to be achieved whilst providing a modern theatre mode too.

Finally, the concrete structure has been referred to as more a sculpture than a building due to the unusual and often challenging geometry which was driven by the striking architectural vision.  For example, we had slabs with cantilever zig zag shaped edges, some very high walls at unusual angles to form the octagon shape of the theatre and lots of changes in floor levels to design.

What is your experience of working in an industry which may be seen as traditionally make dominated?

Structural engineering is still very male dominated. For example, in my team we have two female structural engineers and twenty four male structural engineers and technicians. This is similar to other companies I have worked for during my career. I’m so used to it I don’t really notice it anymore, and whilst it sometimes can feel lonely being the only female, it’s an exciting and interesting career, and I have always found it easy to get on with my male colleagues.

Working on the Shakespeare North Playhouse project has been a fantastic experience, particularly since we have had proportionally more females working on the project than any other job I’ve worked on, which has made for a great and different dynamic within the team.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

For any girl/woman considering a career in structural engineering I would say go for it – it is a very rewarding career and never dull – I’m always learning new things.  Don’t be put off that the industry is male dominated, it is a very friendly community and you will enjoy being different!

Kathrhyn Graham, Senior Project Surveyor, AECOM

Kathrhyn is the lead Quantity Surveyor and has been involved in the project since AECOM were commissioned to provide Quantity Surveying services. In her role Kathrhyn manages the costs of the project on behalf of Knowsley Council. Kathrhyn worked on the estimates whilst the design was being developed, facilitated the appointment of a contractor and negotiated the contract. She deals with the valuations and change control to manage the costs on the project.

Kathrhyn said: “This is the first time I have been involved in a project that has involved a hand carved Jacobean timber frame replica! Providing an estimate for that element to define the Client’s budget was initially very difficult.”

Kathrhyn Graham

As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, is there anything about your role or your experience that you would like to highlight?

Whilst construction is still perceived as a male dominated industry there are more and more women getting involved in a variety of construction roles which is really encouraging. When I first started I was definitely one of very few women in the companies I worked for, let alone the team however I would say in my team the split is probably 60/40 now. Personally I don’t think gender should play any part in assessing if someone is suitable for a role, it’s about how you are able to work and adapt as part of a team and how you approach problems that matters.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

Go for it! Do your research on companies you are interested and find out what type of projects they work on and attend any graduate or careers fayres that you can to speak to people in the industry. Ask lots of questions too. Be interested in whatever task you are faced with and try and understand why you are doing it and how it fits in to the bigger picture. Something which may seem like a mundane task can be really important in the grand scheme of things. It’s better to ask questions than just go along with something when you are trying to learn.

Sheryl Moore

Sheryl Moore, Group Social Sustainability Manager, Kier Group

In her role, Sheryl has worked with the local community in Prescot to increase awareness of careers in construction with the local primary and secondary schools. She has also shared opportunities for local business within the construction supply chain, CSR expertise, helped to increase local apprentice numbers and supported local people into employment.

What are your thoughts on The Shakespeare North Playhouse project?

It has provided a catalyst for change in Prescot and Knowsley and a wonderful merging of construction and creative development. It has incorporated many facets to enhance the theatre experience, not only the final build but also in the creation of the Jacobean theatre and the use of original carpentry skills alongside state-of-the-art concrete texture design. It has provided close links with the arts community and engagement with local schools through career days, ‘have a go’ events, mock interviews and apprentice interviews.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

There are roles in construction that you might not even be aware of so if you enjoy certain subjects research how you can use this in construction. I work with schools and charities, but you wouldn’t think that would be linked to construction. The range of roles in construction is varied and I believe there are opportunities whatever your strengths.

Every day is different, you get to be involved in helping to create the building and structure of the future.

Kier Project Team

Danielle Lilley, Sustainability/Waste Co-Ordinator

Danielle is responsible for tracking various waste from the Playhouse construction site. She manages the data entry of waste, fuel, electricity and water meters and timber delivery tickets to ensure it is disposed of in the correct legal manner. This helps to monitor CO2 the site is producing, to ensure that sustainability targets are being met and to look for areas alternative technologies can be used to help reduce carbon emissions.

Danielle also ensures that all of the timber for the Playhouse development is FSC Certified (or equivalent) and that it comes from sustainable sources.

Danielle Lilley

Is there anything unique about your work for the Playhouse?

My role is primarily an admin-based, however it does allow me to get out on site and look in some bins and skips to ensure they are being segregated correctly!

I studied English Literature at University and Shakespeare was one of my final year modules. I can’t wait to see it completed!

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

I started out with an English Literature degree, then I went into nursing and worked at my local hospital as a Clinical Support Worker for almost ten years and I was in desperate need of a change. It is only by chance that I am working within the construction industry. It is not something I ever considered, but there are such a wide variety of jobs that I didn’t know existed There is something to suit everyone in this sector.

I absolutely love my job and the variety it brings every day! I’m still in awe of how these impressive buildings are put together and the Shakespeare North Playhouse is a uniquely impressive building.

Hannah Aston

Hannah Aston, Environment Manager

Hannah has worked on the Playhouse project from pre-construction phase and her role is primarily focussed on reducing any negative environmental impacts of the project. In her role, Hannah advises on waste minimisation techniques, implements site-specific environmental plans and identifies measures to reduce the ecological impact of the project.

Hannah has recently been involved in a trial at the Shakespeare North Playhouse using Formula One (F1) technology to reduce the energy required to power the static crane on site. She said: “This trial has shown we can reduce our fuel usage for the crane by 40%, which not only decreases our carbon emissions but also helps us improve local air quality, meaning a cleaner environment.”

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

The construction industry provides limitless opportunities and offers a rewarding profession. There are plenty of fantastic projects which you will be proud to work on and leave your legacy. There are so many careers to choose from and the great thing is that there are so many ways to start a career in construction through apprenticeships, foundation degrees and graduate schemes all of which will allow you to find the right career path.

Kate Allen, Engineering Manager

Kate has been involved in the project since the pre-construction stage, working with the project team to ensure that the Playhouse is constructed safely and efficiently. She has assessed and designed items such as the tower crane foundation, the scaffolding and the formwork to construct the concrete walls, making sure they are adequate in supporting the required loads.

Kate said: “When I graduated there were few women in engineering roles. Now I’m happy to report in Liverpool there are 4 female engineers in my team of 12!”

Kate Allen

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

Go for it! There is such a variety of work, so many unique challenges to overcome that every day is different. Even after all my years in the industry I still feel immense pride when I see a project completed. It’s a hugely rewarding career.

Lara Da Rocha Faria

Lara Da Rocha Faria, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Manager

In her role, Lara manages and facilitates all of the social, economic and sustainable investment on the project. This means working with the supply chain to develop work and apprentice opportunities; liaising with the local communities, charities and volunteer groups. Lara also promotes Kier and the wider construction industry through career advice and guidance within schools, colleges and universities, to help educate young people on the opportunities within the industry.

Lara said: “Our client, Knowsley Council, are motivated to ensure this project gives back to the community and we have already created excellent social impact, through the generosity of the project team and our supply chain partners. To date we have; sponsored transport for the MATE Production summer show tour; donated to the refurbished a probation centre, carried out a site clearance at Knowsley Safari Park,  donated wood to build an outdoor community hub for local foodbank, to name just a few.”

As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, is there anything about your role or your experience that you would like to highlight?

CSR (also referred to as social value) is predominantly a role fulfilled by females, although the industry itself is traditionally male dominated. Kier are focussed on increasing its diversity which is currently 22% female. We are finding a more equality in a graduate intake which is 47% female.

I never imagined I would work in the construction industry, however the role of corporate social responsibility combines my passion for ethical and sustainable activities that benefit communities, whilst working for a professional, corporate organisation.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

It’s not all hard hats and muddy boots! Females tend to work in the professional side of construction, such as quantity surveyors, planners, design managers and health and safety, through to bid writers and human resources.

As an industry we recognise that there are less females in operational onsite roles, (approx.  1%), and are highly invested in encouraging more females and wider diversity into the construction roles on site.

The role of CSR manager is an enjoyable and fulfilling role. The social value community within construction is inspiring and you see competitors work collaboratively together to create true, genuine impact that will leave a long-term impact to the communities where we work.

Zoe Lawson, Design Manager

As a design manager, Zoe works with client, construction and design teams to develop practical and aesthetical solutions, to meet or exceed Client, Planning and Building Regulation requirements. Her role is to ensure that the construction team has the information they need, including subcontractor or specialist design information, and that the design is buildable, i.e. it is possible to obtain the supplies required, that it is physically possible and that it can be constructed safely without putting anyone at risk. Zoe will also look for opportunities for value engineering, a process that understands the Client’s needs and wishes and helps provide solutions to give value for money.

Zoe Lawson

Is there anything unique about your work for the Playhouse?

The theatre is replica Jacobean theatre, but with 21st Century facilities which has proven to be an interesting combination for co-ordination and buildability. The theatre is built from reclaimed hardwood, design and crafted by hand, which is a traditional method of construction rarely experienced in modern construction. Dimensional tolerance between this traditional element and other modern elements have taken careful consideration. In addition to this, the theatre dimensions are based on original Jacobean measurements, however these did not have to account for modern theatre expectations and equipment, such as suitable ventilation and heating for the audience, lighting equipment or sound insulation. The challenge has been to take these modern requirements into account without impeding the audience’s experience of attending a Jacobean theatre.

As we are celebrating International Women’s Day, is there anything about your role or your experience that you would like to highlight?

The industry is traditionally seen as male dominated, however there is an increasing number of females fulfilling various roles. My time in the industry and the Shakespeare North Playhouse project has shown me that the construction industry welcomes women and that teams are always supportive of each other. This makes it a great place to come to work and a great industry to be part of.

What advice would you give to any young women who are considering a career in your area of work?

Go for it! I can’t think of any other industry which touches so many lives yet gives an individual so much pride in their work. There are so many different roles, opportunities and types of projects to work on; from housebuilding to HS2, Crossrail, schools, hospitals, leisure centres or even theatres… the list can go on.

You will never stop learning, using ‘what, how, why?’ will help expand your knowledge. Especially in construction, listening and learning from those with more experience is invaluable. Finally, be genuine and confident. Everyone is different, that’s what makes a good team and life interesting; what makes you different isn’t a negative, only ever a positive, embrace it!

Nicola Ridgeway

Nicola Ridgway, SHE Advisor

Nicola played a crucial role in ensuring construction of the Shakespeare North Playhouse remained on track throughout the COIVD-19 pandemic. During the first national lockdown in summer 2020 she was responsible for ensuring compliance to legislation and Kier standards regarding matters relating to health, safety and the environment.

During this time she visited site on a weekly basis to ensure compliance with the latest Government guidance. This included ensuring social distancing was being adhered to and that the site team were implementing continuous effective mitigation measures enabling a safe working environment.

Paula Meredith, Site Administrator, Kier Construction North & Scotland

Paula Meredith

Paula supports the whole of the Kier Shakespeare North Playhouse Project Team and has been on site throughout the construction phase. From meet and greet to correspondence and procurement, accounts and document management, her role has many facets and she also has the advantage of seeing the working life of the site from every angle.