Ringing the changes: the female construction workers on Big Ben
The construction team on the £61m Elizabeth Tower renovation project at the Houses of Parliament has a strong female representation. Ahead of International Women in Engineering Day on 23 June, CM spoke to some of the women working on one of the UK’s highest-profile heritage projects.
The women working at Big Ben
Back row (left to right) Charlotte Claughton (Strategic Estates), Ellie Daniel (Cliveden Conservation), Isobel Brodrick (DBR), Debs Russell (Cliveden Conservation), Andrea Walker (Cliveden Conservation), Polly Westlake (Cliveden Conservation), Anthea McDermott (Currie & Brown), Tessa Blundy (Strategic Estates), Farren Parker (PHD), Tih Nee Tan (Strategic Estates), Jessica Nguyen (Strategic Estates), Hannah Baldwin (Strategic Estates), Áine Downie (Strategic Estates)
Front row (left to right) Kalypso Kampani (Cliveden Conservation), Rosemary Sunderland (Cliveden Conservation), Karina Oyo (Strategic Estates), Heather Oakley (Strategic Estates), Renata Valnarova (Strategic Estates)
Charlotte Claughton, client-side senior project leader, UK Parliament Strategic Estates
Charlotte Claughton has to juggle the considerations of numerous stakeholders, while overseeing multi-discipline consultant teams and contractors, liaising with everyone from the police to the yeoman usher.
She says: “The refurbishment works must be carefully scheduled around the business of the House of Commons and the Lords. For example, division routes to MPs’ offices must be maintained in case a vote is called in the Commons. This is particularly challenging as the only entrance to the Elizabeth Tower and the contractor’s site compound borders the offices to the Shadow Cabinet.”
Tih Nee Tan, electrical engineer, UK Parliament Strategic Estates Design Authority
Tih Nee Tan maintains parliamentary electrical design standards, undertakes stakeholder engagement on technical matters and reviews all active projects on the estate to check for compliance and quality of installations.
Her job is made more complex thanks to the variety of legacy and new systems which need to be integrated. “I’m helping by listening to stakeholders and gathering feedback on what is essential for current operations. This will enable future integration of other features in forming a technical brief to the design team,” she says.
Johanna Berntsson-Ärje, fire engineer, UK Parliament In-house Services
Johanna Berntsson-Arje has an “interesting challenge” balancing the safety of the building’s occupants with the need to protect the Grade-I listed Elizabeth Tower from fire. She is responsible for reviewing technical proposals and ensuring compliance with national and parliamentary standards.
“The tower is approximately 100m tall but has not currently got any facilities to assist firefighters needing to access the upper floors to fight a fire,” she says. She is working with the project team and London Fire Brigade to improve firefighting access and ensure safe evacuation.
Shauna Farrell, construction manager, Sir Robert McAlpine
Shauna Farrell, who oversees around 15 trades and four engineers, must manage the constraints of the small footprint of the building and the scaffold access.
There are multiple elements to consider, with internal refurbishments including installing a lift and M&E upgrades, along with refurbishing the roof structure, stonework and clock faces.
Detailed planning of overlapping activities is key: “To facilitate the installation of the scaffold from the clock faces up to the spire, we had to remove sections of the cast iron roofs out of sequence in order to install beams through the building for stability.”
Clare Hartley-Marjoram, engineer, Sir Robert McAlpine
Clare Hartley-Marjoram manages the sequencing and quality assurance of a variety of subcontracts, through their design development, offsite manufacture and installation.
Her job includes about 10,000 external stone repairs, and squeezing a passenger lift into the old vent shaft using a slim, 65m scaffold tower.
“A point-cloud survey of the masonry ventilation shaft showed us exactly where existing obstructions are, and confirmed the lean from plumb. This leaves a tiny clear vertical zone to squeeze the lift car and its steel structure into,” she says.
Tessa Blundy, deputy head of architecture and heritage, UK Parliament Strategic Estates
A member of the principal architect’s team, Tessa Blundy is responsible for ensuring that any alterations to the 17 listed buildings in the estate, which has 22 buildings in total, is of appropriate design and use of materials, approved under planning legislation and executed to a high standard of workmanship.
She says: “Challenging aspects of the proposal were the insertion of the lift, including openings in the historic building fabric, a new glazed enclosure at belfry level, and the introduction of additional mechanical and electrical services for fire safety.”
Claire Rae, assistant project leader, UK Parliament Strategic Estates
A mobile crane with a puncture is a typical example of the unexpected challenges Claire Rae faces as she manages operational issues arising from the refurbishment of the Elizabeth Tower and liaises with internal stakeholders to advise on the impact to others on the site.
She seeks permissions to allow planned activities to continue, as well as ensuring that work doesn’t introduce any security risks to the estate, which means working closely with security and parliamentary logistics to ensure agreement with all proposals.
Everyone working on site has to be security cleared, which can sometimes be a challenge on a tight schedule. “When constructing the scaffolding, the relationships we developed made the process easier, even when one of the cranes we used developed a puncture,” she explains.
Anthea McDermott, senior cost consultant, Currie & Brown
As a chartered quantity surveyor, Anthea McDermott has to keep the budget rock steady. Leading post-contract management, she works closely with the project team to manage the risk profile and its impact on cost, as well as with the contractor in order to mitigate and reduce the impact of change.
If anything is likely to make the numbers start to crumble, it’s the stonework repairs to the facade. “Close inspection and complete scheduling of repairs weren’t possible until the scaffold had been fully erected,” she explains.