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The women helping restore Wentworth Woodhouse show girls the sky’s the limit

Wentworth Woodhouse, one of the greatest stately homes in the land, was built by men for a male dynasty – but its future is in the hands of women.

Rotherham businesswoman Dame Julie Kenny CBE formed the trust that fought to buy it, Sarah McLeod is the CEO steering it forward and more female hands are shaping its restoration.

Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust recently invited local schoolgirls to meet some of the indispensable women in the construction sector who are using their talents and passion to make the magnificent Rotherham stately home great again.

Taking its lead from June’s International Women in Engineering Day 2019, the event aimed to open the girls’ eyes to career possibilities in the male-dominated sector.

Funded by Great Place Wentworth & Elsecar, a Heritage Lottery Fund project, Sky’s the limit for girls… Build a Career With the Women Helping Restore Wentworth Woodhouse welcomed 19 girls aged 14-16 from Barnsley’s Horizon Community College, Wath Academy, Swinton Academy and St Bernard’s Catholic High School.

Speakers were WWPT Facilities Manager Julie Readman, Samantha Mikhail and Rachel Joshua, engineers at RDG Engineering who designed the state-of-the-art scaffolding shell now shrouding the building, Amy Stamford, the Quantity Surveyor with Woodhead Group who ensures repair work being carried out in Part 2 of the WWPT Capital Works Programme runs to budget, and transport planner Sophie Dunhill of Fore Consulting, who has helped identify new car parks and better access for the thousands of visitors expected as the house grows in popularity.

At the top of their game… The career women who took part are pictured LtoR: RDG Engineer Samantha Mikhail, event organiser Jen Wall, RDG Engineer Rachel Joshua, Woodhead Group Quantity Surveyor Amy Stamford, Fore Consulting Transport Planner Sophie Dunhill, WWPT Facilities Manager Julie Readman

The women explained how they found their way into their careers, answered questions on how it felt to work in a male-dominated industry and took students for a tour of the roof to see repair work and around the grounds.

For Horizon students Ellie Morris, 15, of Worsbrough Dale, and Darcy Swallow, 16, of Dodsworth, the event endorsed their decisions to train for careers in traditionally male domains. Ellie will be studying engineering at Barnsley College in September and Darcy has enrolled on a joinery course at Cube Construction College.

Said Ellie: “Some friends were asking why didn’t I want to study childcare or animal care, like they are doing. But I love fixing things. I’ve fixed cars with my dad and as a kid I built tree houses.”

All the women in Darcy’s family work in healthcare. “I wanted to break out of that,” she explained. I want to create things from wood and I’m really proud to be breaking the stereotype.”

Wath Academy pupil Emma Walters, 15, said:“I really enjoyed the event and learned a lot from it. I know now that construction isn’t just about putting some bricks down and that choosing where to put a car park isn’t just about clearing trees. It takes a lot of people with a lot of skill.”

St Bernard’s pupil Libby Scholey, 14, of Herringthorpe said: “I learned there are lots of opportunities, whether you are a woman or a man. We are lucky. In the past, women didn’t have the opportunities we have now.”

Nazia Seidu-Kpebu,14, of East Dene, loves maths and science but has not yet thought about a career path. “But I do know that women can do the exact same thing as men and they deserve the same amount of respect,” she said.

St Bernard’s pupils Nazia Seidu-Kpebu, Libby Scholley, Beth Norris, Sarah Louise Campbell on the scaffolding at Wentworth Woodhouse

Sarah McLeod, who admitted that as a schoolgirl she never dreamed she would be at the helm of a stately home, said: “Women who have made their mark in male-dominated careers need to give a helping hand to the next generation of career women.

“That’s what our Sky’s The Limit event was all about. We want to encourage girls to think about building their futures in construction and regeneration career choices which are still male-dominated but offer women really exciting and rewarding careers.”

WWPT will be planning another Sky’s The Limit For Girls event in the new academic year.

To find out more about Woodhead Group’s work at Wentworth Woodhouse, click here.