Harriet T’s Story

Harriet Thomas has recently completed her level 1 & 2 qualifications in painting and decorating at Barnsley College while working as an apprentice for a local decorator. She is now setting up her own decorating business.  WEST awarded Harriet a £100 bursary towards equipment and tools.

Why did you become a decorator?

When I left school I got a business admin apprenticeship at an accountants. I didn’t like it, I was bored and not really picking it up.  I spoke to my mum and dad about it, and they said, “Why not do something more practical, and see what decorating is like?” They said to go and talk to our neighbour who is a successful decorator so I went to see him. He was a bit surprised as he wasn’t expecting it because obviously I’m a girl! I tried it for a couple of days and enjoyed it, so went to work with him. Then we talked about me being an apprentice, and that’s what we did.

Did anyone inspire you to go into decorating?

Well, decorating runs in both sides of our family. My granddad on my mum’s side, and my great-granddad on my dad’s side were both decorators. Although I didn’t see them at work, it was there as an idea.

What did you think about training in a male-dominated trade?

I was a bit nervous about going to college, but mainly because I’d never been before and didn’t know what to expect.  At first, in level 1, there were about 20 people in the class, and four of us were girls. When I did level 2 as an apprentice, it was just me and two lads. But it was fine, I just got on with it. We were all treated the same, and I got on with everyone.

What’s your favourite thing about decorating?

I like the finished result of what I do. I like looking at before and after, and thinking, “Yes, I’m happy with that.” I like getting to know different customers too.
I really like wall-papering because I enjoy putting things together, and it is satisfying when you match the paper up. It’s really annoying if it’s out of line though!

What did you want to be when you were a little girl?

I wanted to be a beautician! I love doing hair and make-up. I’m quite precise with what I do, and I’m good at doing nails and make-up. I suppose it is linked to decorating in a weird way. I decided not to go into it because everyone else was doing it, and I thought you couldn’t really make a business out of it for yourself.

Plans and ambitions?

I’m setting up on my own. I’d like to have a regular income, and hopefully get to where my boss is. I’m doing basic house and domestic decorating, but I would like to build up to more high-end and commercial work.

How do you feel about becoming your own boss?

It’s a slow process getting customers at the start, but my old boss has plenty of work I can do if I need it, so I have that as a back-up. Sometimes I’m a little bit anxious that I haven’t got a proper routine of customers yet. It’s nerve-wracking to start up – but  when I get up and running I’ll be alright.

Advice to other girls thinking of training as decorators?

It’s hard work, but if you want to get the best out of it, then stick to it. I’ve always got along with lads, but it depends what you are like as a person. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, but I took it as it came – I never thought I’d be doing this when I was at school! So my advice is to give it a go!