"Getting into architecture was actually quite difficult. For my year out of architectural school, I struggled more than most people, but eventually I got a place at a practice in Birmingham. Once I got that, I stayed in Birmingham pretty much all my career.
It was quite evident, right from when I was a graduate, that it was an industry full of prejudices against gender and other races. I was shocked by the gender inequality more than anything. In 1987, there was open racism within the office and on site. It was quite an eye-opener. It didn't deter me from carrying on in the industry; if anything, it made me more determined to succeed."
"I’ve fulfilled one of my major ambitions, which was to start my own practice. We’re coming up to our 10th year — it’s been a great journey. What I have found is that the industry in a place like Birmingham is quite supportive of people like me — BAME professionals — probably more so than a lot of other cities and places. I’ve chosen to open a second office, in rural Herefordshire. It’s almost starting again. It’s a good challenge for me, and it’s an opportunity to educate people in terms of how the industry has moved on.
Winning the RIBA Award was an amazing milestone; it was a nice surprise I wasn’t expecting at all. It was a great feather in the cap for the practice. We’ve won multiple awards on the project in Shropshire and that has been hugely significant. I’d like to keep doing what we’re doing to make sure the practice grows and everyone who works there enjoys what they’re doing. Winning the RIBA Award has set the benchmark now, so with any new project, that is the aspiration: that we win awards and get recognised.
The obvious place where BAME representation could be improved would be within schools of architecture. I haven’t seen any recent data, but there probably is an underrepresentation, and all of that might be due to socioeconomic factors — it's an expensive course, and it's a long course. A lot of schools of architecture get a higher proportion of international students, and then among UK students, I believe, there are disproportionately few BAME students, and in particular, an underrepresentation of black students. That needs to be addressed somehow. It’s more of a deep-rooted societal issue, if people can’t afford to go to university for that long, they won’t. The system of apprenticeships is a good one; it makes architecture more accessible for people. I think the number of women who are entering the profession has increased, as traditionally there was a huge dropout rate, but that has been addressed quite willfully by RIBA, encouraging people to change, whether they’re employers or educators. I think the same needs to happen now with other underrepresented communities within the profession.
I’m a huge champion of the profession, and I think that a lot of school students are interested in the built environment. Even from an early age, it’s in the psyche of young people – like The Dengineers for example on CBBC. I think there needs to be a much stronger commitment within the curriculum - not just design technology, but something that's specifically geared towards the built environment. It could be buildings, interior design, landscape — to engage with those at a much younger age."