New London Architecture

Five minutes with... Rachel Bell, director, Stride Treglown

Friday 11 December 2020

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ

David Taylor: Morning! How are you?

Rachel Bell: Good morning! I’m alright. How are you? 

DT: Yes, very good. So: this is our last edition of the year coming up and I thought we'd start basically with a question about how it's been for you, this year? Obviously, since March, things have been odd for everybody. We at NLA have pivoted to a digital format pretty much and I guess as a business development person within your practice you've had to find new methods. Is that a fair suggestion?

RB: Absolutely, yeah. What a year!  I actually joined the board at Stride Treglown on 1 January as well, in a new role on the board and, as you say, doing business development sat at home has been tough. We are all people-based, and love face-to-face meetings, and obviously seeing everyone's reactions, and how you deal with that. But actually, I think it's addressed quite a lot in the industry as a whole, and I hope that there are a lot of points that people will pick up on and actually take forward and start questioning what we were doing. You know, the 7a.m events, or the crazy late nights and the big dinners and that very social side that comes from business development, but also the fact that I've actually found lots of great meetings and actually the willingness of many people that ordinarily you kind of think well, they might not give me the time of day, but actually they've been very open to half an hour discussions. 

And that's actually been a really enlightening moment; that you don't have to be doing lots of travel. So, before lockdown I was travelling across the UK around all of our nine offices supporting all of the teams in each of those regions. And actually being able to do that without the travel and overnight stays, all of those crazy hours I think will really make me question what I want to do beyond this, and how I make the most of it. So: really thinking about what the purpose is and that has really started to make a lot of people think about how you tackle business development and that engagement side, and look after clients and those relationships when ordinarily can't you be in the same room together.

DT: What is missing I presume is the face-to-face, which is just so difficult to replicate. Is it the case that you think that it's just going to be different ratio of that going forward?

RB: Yes. Absolutely. I think there will still be a need for people to get together, to collaborate. As people in the creative industry, that's the hardest thing that we found but there are methods, and I actually think that the discussions around the death of the office and various other things like that is…it's just not going to be to that extreme. The fact that people will still want to get together; I think it's just the emphasis on people jumping from event to event, meetings to meetings. That's actually been one of the first things that I think I've highlighted very early on in lockdown was that downtime that you have between meetings, and to some extent that is part of the commute that you have. Or the travel. That's the thinking space, whereas if you’re bouncing from call to call, you literally are jamming things in back-to-back, or you're dealing with the missed phone calls whilst you've been on the other calls. But no, absolutely, I think we are about that interaction with people and therefore it is key that we still have those opportunities to meet together. But I just think it will be questioned in terms of the large-scale events, or how they are dealt with and actually what people are trying to get out of them. And I think that’s having a clear agenda. What's your target? Which should have been the case anyway.

DT: So can we move to Women in Property, which you've been a big part of, down in the South West for a while and I think you're taking over as chair of the full monty in March. Is that right?

RB: (laughs) Is it indeed!

DT: So what is your basic plan for that role? What is your mission? Are you sketching out a kind of goal?

RB: Yes, we’re starting to talk through that. I've been a member since 2006. I qualified as an architect in 2004, so I kind of recognise that even now that there's still 14% of the construction industry represented by females and the drive to support those females gives them the information the knowledge the connections the support across the industry. So through those years it's been a great network for me to do that, learn from one another, build friendships. Actually the CPD and the seminars that they provide. And then also for me it's been about supporting the younger generation and actually ensuring that people know about the industry. 

I chaired the South West region in 2017/2018, which was a big ask; it’s the second largest region after the South East. But it's a fantastic network and has given me a lot over the years. I have been asked to step up to the challenge of the national chair role from next March and I’m actually going to take forward things that I did in my regional chair year, so one of the big hashtags for me was ‘stand tall’ and that for me… I'm just about five foot, just about! (laughs)

But it was all about leading and supporting and being able to encourage people to step outside of their comfort zone. And this goes back across the years; about stepping up to panels, and to just say: yes, I'll take that on, and ensure that they know that someone’s got their back, being able to go to people, ask advice and see people actually leading the way. So yeah, I think there will be a lot of that. I think there will be a huge amount obviously, post-Covid. And in March next year I think we will still be in some kind of restriction. Across this year we, as in women in property, have put on over 100 online events…

DT: Wow!

RB: …So there’s been great support from people and actually it's been brilliant because the fact that you as a member in the South West I can still attend events that are happening in Scotland, in Yorkshire, in Manchester, and actually that opens up a whole variety of opportunities for people to connect into one another, but also learn from different cities, different aspects across the industry. So I think there are parts of that that again will be taken forward. As a member of Women in Property you can access all the events but generally it would mean that you would have to travel to each of those whereas I think the fact that we've all gone online, and we can access all of that very easily has been a great opportunity. And things like our national steering group meetings joined together all of the committees from across the UK, and of course normally we would travel to an office somewhere in the UK. Everyone would travel to meet there. But being on Zoom, it’s provided greater attendance; a greater opportunity and people haven't had to travel very far. So I think there's lots of learnings that people will take from that next year.

DT: So, final question. With all this going on, how on earth are you going to enter Bake Off for next year?

RB: (laughs)

DT: …or is it the year after that that you're now aiming at?

RB: (laughs). Yeah, it happens every year. Everyone says: ‘come on Rachel. Enter. Enter!’ And the deadline was midnight last night and I was sat there thinking: shall I do it? And thinking: how on earth would I fit that in with everything that I'm doing, my potential trip to Malawi next year…

DT: Oh, right? Tell me about that! Sorry, in a minute.

RB: Yeah, so Bake Off is always one of those things that we kind of think: yeah, that would be really nice to do, and I'm sure you have seen on my tweet, everyone is just saying come on Rachel, just do it. No, I'm chocolate brownie champion in my local village… 

DT: Fantastic!

RB: …And there is a lot of pressure to enter Bake Off and see where that would go, but alongside Women in Property national chair and everything else that I do, it might be a bit of a challenge (laughs). That step too far next year.

DT: So tell me about Malawi very quickly as well.

RB: Yeah, so this was an inspirational talk that I saw from the founding member of Orbis Expedition (, Kate Webb, and she just totally inspired me a couple of years ago. I ended up taking this trip – a women's expedition trip to Malawi in 2019 in May and it was extraordinary. It was taking all of the aspects that I enjoy through supporting women in business, an adventure up a mountain, and also working with a secondary school on STEM activities and helping them with CV workshops and all of that, but combine that all travelling to Malawi which is the warm heart of Africa. And it was extraordinary. So much so that we've been running lots of workshops over the last 6 to 8 weeks with those businesswomen in Malawi on just sharing business skills. And as much as it's us helping them, they are extraordinary women and so there is a huge amount that we can learn from what they are dealing with, and also what type of businesses, and how they exist. So there was a lot there that we can learn from one another. I'm hoping, fingers crossed, that we can get out there again next year and that will be another women's expedition throwing in lots of adventure and excitement, in an extraordinary place.

DT: Well, so you've got a really packed year ahead of you! So: good luck with it all, and happy Christmas as well! I'm sure your cake will be better than all of ours!

RB: It’s currently feeding, or being fed, so absolutely! I’ve got to ice it yet!

DT: Wow, right you really are on the case! Okay, magic. Lovely to speak to you, Rachel, and see you soon. Bye. 

RB: Thanks, David. Cheers. Bye!

David Taylor

David Taylor

Editor, NLQ


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