Hattie Hasan is the founder of Stopcocks Women Plumbers. Her dream in the UK is for any woman wishing to be a plumber to be able to become one. 25 years ago after some years teaching she was eventually and inexorably pulled towards what she ‘just had to do’, giving up her comparatively lucrative career and throwing herself into college again to retrain as a plumber.
“…a lot of work still needs to be done to raise awareness that women plumbers exist, and to end the isolation female plumbers feel in their locations often not knowing how many of us there actually are. (Around 1000-1500 in the UK.)…”
What made you decide to give up your teaching career and re-train?
I have always been ‘handy’ and as a child regularly blew fuses created minor havoc in my quest to find out ‘how things work’. At school I acquired the nick name ‘maintenance’ and started a tiny little business repairing broken electrical items my school friend would bring in.
I wanted to continue this when it came to choosing my options but was told in no uncertain terms that ‘engineering, metalwork, technical drawing and woodwork are boys subjects’. My choices as a girl at school in the 70’s were cookery, needlework and typing. I got my ‘science’ kick by studying physics, chemistry biology and maths ‘A’ levels…the only girl in the class.
When in my late 20s I became disillusioned with teaching and wanted to leave, I looked back at my dream subjects and combined them with my great respect, love and affinity with water (my star sign Scorpio is a water sign) so it had to be plumbing.
How did the men you were working alongside react to you?
I started my training in London in 1989, the only woman in the college. The guys were generally OK, but kept wanting to ask me out on dates.
When I left London in Jan 1990 I transferred my course to The Leeds College of Building (the only woman, having to use the staff loos because there were none provided for female students at that time!!) The guys were surprisingly supportive. Given the reputation of ‘up North’ I had expected to get some stick, but none was forthcoming I’m happy to say.
Recently I was asked to attend the college to speak to the plumbing students about being self-employed. Out of 200 students only three were female. Sadly, not much has changed in my 25 years of plumbing and that is where Stopcocks Women Plumbers comes in.
What is the response like from your clients?
Our clients come from all backgrounds from MPs to housewives, millionaire business men to single parents, male or female. We are chosen because we are women, but a lot of work still needs to be done to raise awareness that women plumbers exist, and to end the isolation female plumbers feel in their locations often not knowing how many of us there actually are. (Around 1000-1500 in the UK.)
We also serve as positive role models for both boys and girls to see every time we enter a property. I have often been observed by young girls rather like a zoo exhibit. I cannot stress the value of this highly enough.
What areas of the UK does the business cover?
Stopcocks Women Plumbers can primarily be found in the South and South East of England, but in the past our reach stretched all the way from Darlington in the North to Plymouth in the South and Canvey Island in the East. Over the past three years we have helped and enabled nearly 30 women to become fully qualified plumbers. We are always looking to increase our reach. The Stopcocks License helps you to become self-employed but not alone.
What is your advice to women who want to enter the industry?
Always check it out first. It is hard and heavy work. Go on local ‘taster days’ If you do any DIY and are handy then you will be suited to plumbing.
Find a local college and enquire how they propose to help you to gain full qualification. Just gaining your City and Guilds certificate is not enough and you need to do ‘on site’ work to gain your NVQ. It is notoriously difficult for women to get apprenticeships. This has hardly changed since my day.
Housing associations, councils, large insurance companies and large energy companies are bound by equal opportunities laws and if you shout loud enough and they don’t already have a female you may be lucky. Other than that, become self-employed like I did and perhaps join Stopcocks Women Plumbers. (There is a cost involved here.)
Beyond the UK, you’re also interested in global water management. Please can you tell us about this?
It is my firm belief that there is enough water on the planet to sustain all life living on it. In 2013 Stopcocks Women Plumbers began supporting a village in Kenya to build a rainwater harvesting system and money raised by our efforts provided bio digesters (toilets that turn human waste into water that can be used for irrigation) for the Kithoka Amani Community Home, which was set up by a wonderful woman Karambu Ringera when some of her friends feared for their children as they were dying from AIDS.
This is something very close to my heart and though I haven’t been there myself yet, it is my intention to accept the kind invitation and even to train the women and girls of the community in how to maintain the systems they build. This invitation was extended to us specifically because we are women.
What’s next for you and Stopcocks?
I will continue my work here in the UK to build the brand of Stopcocks Women Plumbers so that not only any girl / woman can become a plumber if she wants to, but that any customer wanting to use female tradespeople can easily find us. I have also been invited to speak in the USA and hope to honour this in the New Year.