Professional Builder focuses on two women who are forging a career in woodworking.
Cardiff-based Philippa Skinner retrained as a carpenter at the age of 25 at Bridgend College. She originally relocated to the Welsh capital to complete an undergraduate degree and a masters in philosophy. Having previously worked in a pub, and as a care worker, Philippa eventually started working for a local carpenter.
A progression into managing projects by herself led Philippa to make the jump to go it alone. She now specialises in alcove wardrobes and shelving as her principle jobs because it’s “what people want.” Small, terraced houses are a feature of Cardiff City Centre in particular, which makes maximising space a priority.
Overall – and very pleasingly – Philippa hasn’t experienced any issues regarding gender within the trade. She is very positive about her experience and reports that most tradesmen she meets are really excited to tell their wives and daughters about her.
Philippa is really bubbly and clearly enjoys her work. When quoting for jobs she admits that she “gabbles on about all the different types of shelf you can have and the materials.” It’s clearly far from “gabbling” – one look at Philippa’s website and it is visible for all to see she is a talented carpenter.
A personal ambition would be to explore stair making, as she hadn’t had the chance to do that since she started working alone. Interestingly, she views structural work as “the way people graduate” and would love to work more in this area in the future and has ambitions to develop her skills and take her successful business further.
Barry based carpenter Leanne Cameron runs her own carpentry business – Against The Grain – in south Wales, where she also trained at Cardiff and Vale College.
Originally, she worked in marketing, but after quitting her job and going travelling she returned to the UK with a renewed zest for her working life, and decided to follow in the footsteps of her father and join the construction trade.
Leanne first worked as a labourer in her father’s firm before starting college and then moving on to an apprenticeship. She was the only female and the oldest student – at 30 years old – when she started but her road into carpentry has been an interesting one.
After a year of site-work she moved into theatre with the CTS Welsh National Opera where she continued her apprenticeship making sets. This continued with Bay Productions (another theatre company) for a further two years. Leanne found the theatre work a fun and creative experience whilst the team aspect in working with metal workers and painters also appealed.
Her experience as a woman in carpentry has been “challenging” but she is grateful that she was able to get into it straight away through her connections. It has inspired her to help other women looking to get into the industry.
Always looking for opportunities to develop, she is currently doing an evening course in electrics. “You can’t be closed-minded to new things as a carpenter,” she reveals, “and I would also like to try wood turning and furniture making one day.”
Its versatility and maneouvreability on site makes the Festool plunge saw her favourite tool. She does, however, have a rule of thumb of using hand tools where possible and loves the skills involved in woodworking.
Having moved on from scenic carpentry to managing her own business, Leanne is more likely to be putting up shelving or fitting cupboards, doors and skirting, but she has retained her links with theatre companies.
The pandemic has forced her into the workshop a bit more as she has, of course, respected the rules enforced by Covid-19. It has also blunted any opportunity to take on an apprentice, but she remains committed to supporting other women coming into the field by offering advice over the phone or sharing contacts.
Going forward, Leanne hopes to continue to grow her business and remain self-employed but importantly she wants to change the way people view tradespeople and leave a positive impression of women in woodwork.