Training in the Trades – Painting and Decorating
Penny Gray, Painter and Decorator
If Painter and Decorator Penny Gray ever wants to down tools, she’d make a great careers advisor. She seems to be doing brilliant work already with girls at the secondary school she passes on her way home from work. “The girls always say to me ‘Do you do decorating every day?’, And I say ‘Yeah, it’s great. You’d be able to do it too – earn lots of money, be out and about’. But I think they don’t even picture it as an option. It’s a bit sad.“
Penny started to picture it as an option when she noticed an ad in the south London press, advertising a women-only painting and decorating course at Lambeth College. It was something she’d considered before, when she helped decorate her sister’s and friend’s homes – “every now and then, someone would say, ‘You should maybe take this seriously, and go to college’.”
On her three year, part-time course she was tutored by Pearl O’Keefe, who Penny says was “probably one of the best tutors there, cos she really pushed for women“.
She was also fortunate that she didn’t have any childcare issues at the time – although she was a single mum, “my kids were older, so it was probably the right time for me to start.“
So did she have any doubts? “A few. Cos I thought – I didn’t want to get into something I couldn’t do, and then let someone down….But every Decorator has told me they have those same thoughts and feelings, you just somehow get through it.“
Now qualified, Penny says she loves the variety and the “travelling” that the job can give – “Being somewhere different every day“.
She found out about Women and Manual Trades through Lambeth College. She joined WAMT’s Building Work for Women programme, and gained work experience. Penny says she’d “definitely” recommend her career choice to other women, and that women-only training, if it’s available, can help – “For me, it was definitely good starting with all women. I think that made it a lot easier.”
Of course there are down-sides, like the frustrations caused by people thinking she’s not up to the job. Penny gives an example of a recent client, who seemed really anxious about her working on a ladder – “she just kept on saying ‘Are you okay?’And you just know she wouldn’t have said that to a guy. She was checking on me every ten minutes to make sure I hadn’t fallen off!“
But Penny knows how to deal with people who think she’s too delicate to be a professional decorator. “I tend to just let them say whatever they want to say. And I just look at it like ‘I’m going to surprise you “ next time you come in it’s going to be all done, and you’re going to love it’!“