Exploring London Transport Museum with engineer Emma Watkins
By Carrie Long, LTM Volunteer
Emma Watkins, site engineer at Skanska, visited London Transport Museum to tell us more about her work, her experience as a young female engineer, and how she is helping to shape and build a sustainable London.
At the last London Transport Museum debate: Women of the future, the Museum celebrated inspiring women from the past, such as the all-female Waterloo bridge builders. They also looked at the future and lead discussions on how to achieve gender equality in the transport industry.
Following on from this theme, Emma is giving a timely talk as part of the Museum’s next Late Debate: Environment matters on 7 June, an event to discuss and explore ways of making London a cleaner, greener, and more livable city, including engineering and design solutions to environmental issues.
Walking around the museum together, stopping at Victorian vehicles and construction models, and taking in the museum’s two new exhibitions, Digging Deeper on tunneling and The Secret Life of a Megaproject on Crossrail, Emma shares her modern engineer’s take on the construction of London and her own experience as a part of it.
In Emma’s first 18 months as a qualified engineer she has taken part in a wide variety of projects. From building an internal bridge at Waterloo station, to a stint on a Crossrail site – “every single engineer in London has worked on Crossrail”, she says, laughing. She is now involved in restoration and modernisation work of Bazalgette’s original sewers. And when someone talks with gleaming eyes and enthusiasm about going down into the sewers, you know that they are passionate about their job. She says engineering allows her to see fascinating hidden parts of London that are inaccessible to the public, but integral to how we use and live in the city.
On our tour of the museum, Emma stops at a model of Victorian cut-and-cover tunneling, showing wooden supports, horse-operated machinery, and men working without any protective clothing. While Emma values health and safety as well as modern machines on today’s construction sites, she can’t help but admire the ingenuity of the workers and inventors of the past, trying new methods at great personal risk. And not only in London: In Paris, the ground was too wet and soft to tunnel into, so the engineers froze it using liquid nitrogen as early as 1900.
One thing Emma says hasn’t changed much compared to the Victorian tunneling display is the lack of women on a construction site. Today, still only 1% of site workers are women. Attitudes have changed though, and she has always felt welcome and integrated on all her work projects. Emma is passionate about inspiring other young people, especially girls, to go into engineering. She is an ambassador for the Institute of Civil Engineering (ICE). ICE is contributing to the Late Debate too, running an interactive engineering challenge to save a Lego-built city from flooding.
Book onto the Late Debate: Environment Matters on 7th June 2018, where you can meet Emma and hear about her experience developing a green attitude in construction.