From movies to mortar for Sophie

By Liz HearnshawAFTER planning a career in photography and film-making, the last place Sophie Seymour imagined working was as a bricklayer on one of East Anglia's most prestigious building projects.

By Liz Hearnshaw

AFTER planning a career in photography and film-making, the last place Sophie Seymour imagined working was as a bricklayer on one of East Anglia's most prestigious building projects.

But in the space of one whirlwind week, the 23-year-old, who graduated from university in the summer with a first class honours degree in fine arts, has taken on the role of apprentice bricklayer at Bury St Edmunds' ambitious cathedral tower project.

As part of a television experiment spearheaded by Channel 4's daily Richard and Judy show, Sophie picked up a cement trowel for the first time yesterday and joined the all-male team working at the tower.

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Horry Parsons, team leader for Bluestone PLC, which is masterminding the St Edmundsbury Cathedral tower project, said: “There is a surplus of graduates finding difficulty getting the end result and job they were looking for, and we are short of skills in the building industry.

“Having Sophie with us is part of an experiment to see what happens when we put the two together. A lot of people don't really know about the jobs available in the building industry.

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“People assume it is all about brute force and ignorance, throwing concrete into a hole, but the skills and knowledge required are often much greater than the public perceives.

“This experiment shows there might be more options for graduates than they really understand.”

Following in the footsteps of Prince Charles, who laid the first stone at the new tower in 2001, Sophie has now faced the scaffold and mixed her first mortar to become the only woman to work on the project.

“There has been a lot in the press recently saying there are not enough plumbers, plasterers and builders around,” said Sophie, who lives in Cambridgeshire and originates from Southampton.

“Maybe if more people learned a trade instead of going to university, there wouldn't be so much debt amongst graduates and there wouldn't be this shortage of skilled workers.

“I have had a few problems finding a job, but this has shown me the building industry is not just about digging holes. There is much more opportunity and diversity in the trade.”

Sophie graduated from Hull School of Art and Design in June and appeared on Richard and Judy last week.

Before travelling to Bury St Edmunds, she spent a day working at Hylands House in Chelmsford with guilders restoring and decorating a ceiling.

She added: “I would quite like to work in restoration rather than new build, which suits me as I have never wanted an office job.

“But it is really exciting to be working on such a fantastic project in Bury and is nice to do something I otherwise would not get the chance to do.

“The most interesting part is to learn about the traditional methods my new colleagues are using. This is not a big, rushed job to produce a load of old rubbish, work is being done carefully here in stages.”

A largely male-dominated environment, only about 5% of building site workers are women - a trend craftsmen hope might come to an end if awareness of their profession is raised.

Mr Parsons said: “The number of females working on building sites has not really increased in the last 20 years, due to the public perception of what the job entails.

“But there are lots of jobs in the industry, a female can do equally as well as a male. We are quite happy to knock down these barriers from an employers' point of view - we just have to attract more females into the industry.

“Sophie has impressed us as she is so prepared to try new things. She has joined a Premiership team and will become the David Beckham of our bricklaying force.”

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