Sovay Berriman: Women in Construction and Trade

Written by Grey

We're featuring Women in Construction and Trade every Wednesday!

This week we spoke to Sovay Berriman (@SovayB), Cornish based artist and Plumber

Hey Sovay, tell us a little bit about what you do!

I’m a plumber, and an artist. I trained in plumbing five years ago, and that led quite quickly to gas so that my mentor and I could work more efficiently as a team.

Artist and a plumber! What an awesome variety of hats you wear. How did you make the decision to get into your profession?

Austerity ha! And the changing face of arts education.

I used to work in undergraduate education and as a freelancer for arts organisations. There were giant cuts in these areas back in the early 2010s, I was made redundant from a teaching post and freelance work became harder to find.

Eventually, I found myself in London in my early 40s, working and living way too precariously for comfort. I thought it was about time I made a change. I wanted to come home to Cornwall, and find something that might offer more security for the future, use my practical skills, plus allow the flexibility I needed for my art practice.

I happen to have been living in a basement at the time that was flooded six times due to seriously shoddy and downright dangerous plumbing.

I thought – even I wouldn’t do it this badly! So called up Cornwall College and signed up for a City & Guilds 6035 course.

So, as an artist and plumber, what does your work day typically look like?

I start out with admin. Reply to emails and messages, call anyone I need to re parts/prices, do some paperwork, then head out.

I don’t cram lots in to the day but take my time. I often have a couple of little jobs that need doing where the customers are happy to wait until I have a last minute opening.

So if I find I’ve some time and energy after booked-in work I’ll head to those. When I was teaching I used to get super stressed, and it wasn’t good for my health, so now I’m careful about keeping a lid on things.

I fit art studio and plumbing work around each other, depending on who and what becomes a priority at any given time.

And what is your favourite thing about your profession? What is your least favourite thing?

My Favourite? Problem solving.

Old houses with imperial pipe, DIY’d systems and three foot walls ha!

It’s not uncommon to work step-by-step with the customer when they want to do a lot of work themselves. I feel so happy for them once their house is complete.

We’ve done our bit, plus given them support while they’ve gone through the mill learning and thinking and working out what they’re doing. I’m really proud of them.

I suppose it’s a hangover from teaching, I like being ‘in it’ together. We’re all invested in getting their home sorted, just how they want.

My least favourite? The furthest to reach bath tap…

Have you ever engaged with any organisations that are pushing for gender equality in construction/trade?

I’ve chatted with Stopcocks a fair bit. Just them being around is super encouraging.

Back years and years ago, I was part of a team that founded a housing centre for young women, I then worked for them as a housing worker.

Equality and fair access to all things in life is fundamental to me.

Even at school, girls weren’t allowed to take exams in metalwork, woodwork, etc, me and a couple of friends demanded to be allowed to learn technical drawing. We had to sit at the back and not ask questions or disturb the boys. And you bet I’m still the same.

Do you have a mentor figure who has inspired you?

A woman called Val Stanley, a youth worker who back in the very early ‘90s changed my life, and helped me harness the energy I have to go and do things I want to, and not be scared.

Are there any women who work in construction within your own personal network that inspire you?

Damn right! All of them! @lamornaTW @xgasgirlx @Becky_BBPlumb @HattieHasan @EllenPlumber @obrien_petra @Loz_Winter

Is there anything you would like to say to other women who are just entering the industry?

Keep on. It’s bloody brilliant. You have the frustration of things not working out and then the exhilaration of fixing the problem and that’s an amazing buzz. I love love love my customers being happy.

Three tracks, a book and a luxury: what would you take to a desert island?

I bloody love Desert Island Discs!

Track One) Go Your Own Way – Fleetwood Mac

Track Two) This Woman’s Work – Kate Bush

Track Three) When Doves Cry – Prince

Book) Anthology of all Agatha Christie novels

Luxury) endless paper and pencils – to plan and design clean water and sanitary systems for myself and write messages to go in bottles. Oh, and did I mention the wine…for the bottles?

This was Sovay Berriman (@SovayB), interviewed for our #WiCW series – a compilation of articles from inspirational women in the Construction and Trades industries. Want to get involved? Have someone to recommend? Get in contact with Grey on Twitter or grey@shakeandspeare.com

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