Quite early on, I fell in love with the idea of designing buildings; it was the reason that I embarked on the long training. I’m an only child. I had wonderful supportive parents, so I never doubted I had a right to pursue a career and achieve things with my life. Somewhere ‘chasing the architecture dream’ seemed to turn into a monster chasing me and my work/life balance evaporated.
The birth of my daughter in 2000 came with the opportunity to design an unusual house for my parents, and I left my employer, British Waterways, where I had spent ten years working mainly in the Development and Master Planning Team. I embraced all the architectural learning needed to follow this new path. The house was a success, a family affair as much of the finishing off was undertaken by my father as DIY projects.
I always strive to help people, and it can be difficult to maintain a good balance at times. I was running a household and trying to be a great Mum (a major priority that I know I nailed!), while for years supporting ailing parents through to the ends of their lives. I was also trying to keep up with social commitments and to ‘do architecture’.
I moved on to smaller domestic projects and over the years I have worked for some lovely people but being in solo practice I missed being part of a team, the camaraderie, the support, the chance to grow and learn from them.
Working on my own, I became overwhelmed at times by problems with equipment, technology (my particular bugbear!), organising and dealing with paperwork. With no people around me, I sometimes spent hours agonising over ‘is A the best decision or B?’
A project went wrong that I cared very much about, my confidence was badly knocked, and it became too painful to carry on. A friend said, “You need to stop! All you are getting is pain and you are not even getting a decent remuneration for your efforts”. I stopped.
In April 2021, I decided it was time to see how I felt about being an Architect again, this time in a world that, because of Covid, had even more fully embraced technology. I put my toe in the water by signing up for three CPD zoom events from the RIBA and on one of them I learnt about Pride Road Architects.
Three days later I emailed Lisa Raynes, architect and franchise owner:
“I watched you talk on Thursday for the Birmingham Architectural Association and was uplifted. Your franchise idea is inspirational… I listened to your Su Butcher and Rion Willard podcasts and laughed out loud at the point about people doing lots of checking out on the internet before connecting – I’m looking in a mirror! I loved the fact you were being you – cats, cake competitions, Lego and canal boats. All things I can relate to. …working from home all alone all these years has been scary.
I want to be ‘with my people’, might it be Pride Road Architects?’
Well, I got the answer, and the answer was Yes!
I started telling friends ‘I’m thinking about joining this architectural franchise, it’s all women architects. They are so open and lovely. I feel valued for myself. I feel I can add something to it.’
Someone said, “Sandy you’ve got your sparkle back!” and I do feel it. Not all the time of course. The first euphoria has mellowed, but I feel I’ve taken a step in a new direction. I feel empowered and that I’ve found ‘my people’, whose encouragement will help me grow.
There is a lot to learn. I know some of my existing experience and skill sets are a good match, and I know that some of what I am learning is way out of my comfort zone. It’s not the architecture, it’s the business. Some things are completely new (social media marketing!) others are familiar. Some of the things I don’t even think about whether I can do them, I just get on with it.
Several months in with Pride Road Architects, I’m learning that I can be a confident businesswoman. I’m on a journey with Pride Road South Warwickshire and even though there are some bends and forks in the road I’m enjoying taking this trip in the company of some inspirational women!