Loose Lives: Katie Bushnell, Builder

At noon today I drove to a building site in Hove where Katie is part of a team building a house. They're starting from scratch and Katie advised me to wear boots, despite the hot June sunshine, and put on a protective hat, before climbing down a ladder with her into the large, open dusty hole that will become the foundation.

It's unusual to find a female builder - apparently they make up only 6% of the trade-working population - and this is not the only way in which Katie defies convention. You see, I'm down a hole in Hove with Katie because, unlike most of the female population, she has no time at all for bras.

"Pfft!" she scoffs "why bother?" Sometimes I wear a tie-up bikini top if it's really hot and the guys have gone bare-chested, but why wear a bra? I like to be comfortable and move freely, and I don't have big ones so it's no big deal".

Katie is wearing a simple statement Tee under her Hi-Viz waistcoat, and tells me that she hasn't bothered with a bra for years.

Katie in statement Tee, Hi-Viz waistcoat, and protective hat :-)

Katie in statement Tee, Hi-Viz waistcoat, and protective hat :-)

"I've been flat-chested all my life. I once wanted bigger tits to feel more girlie but now I'm relieved as my chest is just a handful, and I feel very sexy. They haven't dropped, and I breast fed all 3 babies, the last until he was 17 months. I think they've done their job and now I hardly ever wear a bra... only if I think my nipples might show through a top..."

Ah yes the 'nipplage' issue - one of the reasons Loose Debra exists - to find tops that disguise those persistent points!

I've been reading Katie's Twitter feed, @Ladybuilder,  for some time and I chuckle at her polite and practical work-related tweets. Things like..

"More materials have arrived unexpectedly. The crane chap just offloading for us"

"Hopefully last concrete pour for a while. Road will be shut from about 10.30-12. Apologies"

"This is the conveyor that is taking all the lovely clay out of the hole. Thank you for your patience"

Or "Very muddy on site!" with a photo :-)

I ask her, "As a woman, what appeals to you about the building industry?"

"I love being outside, and, I seem to have found my voice on the building site.  I let the men do their jobs and don't put them down. I've found the men to be respectful and kind and behave in a very different way when I'm around. They tend to be helpful and watch their language. I also feel pleased that I see things most men miss  - everything is tidier and more ordered, since I've been around here, and less aggressive. I also empathise with the reaction of mothers on the school run who pass by. Some are very aggressive if we are blocking their usual routes, but I really get how stressed they are, because I know what it's like to plan the day with young kids and anything in the way is added pressure. Maybe they're a bit jelly of my life too!!!"

Katie smiles and adds, "I might not have the same physical strength as a man on the job, but I apply logic to lifting materials, and I drive a digger and lift large pieces of ply. It's all about technique!"

I smile too, as I think of the value of bringing a bit of soft power to a traditionally hard-powered arena. Katie's politeness, regard for tidiness, empathy for those whom the building work may disrupt - all these qualities shine through her tweets, her work, and her on-site relationships. And, as can be the case for a woman working in a male-dominated profession, she is both passionate about her work and keen to show that she is up to the job.

As I drive back home, I recall some of my own experiences with builders, and can't help thinking 'lucky building company...even luckier customers.'

Karen Dobres, Chief Freedom Fighter

PS: Thanks for the great hat Katie!

PS: Thanks for the great hat Katie!