Simon – Lignum Designs

Simon is an architect and runs his own firm, Lignum Designs, near Plymouth. He is the Enterprise Adviser for Sir John Hunt Community Sports College.

At age 11, my dad suggested that I could be an architect because I was really keen on drawing and I thought it sounded good. I’m lucky to have known from an early age what I wanted to do, but lots of people have a long and winding road to their choice of career and I thought there has to be a better way.

When people want to build something, they are passionate about it, and as an architect you’re helping them realise a dream. I enjoy trying to get as much use out of a space as possible. At the moment I’m designing the conversion of a tiny barn into a house. It’s a beautiful building and if we design every element really carefully, making sure we get enough light in, it will be a jewel of a house.

I like to work with people who care and I find most of my projects through word of mouth. I work on about 7 or 8 projects at a time, mostly people doing self-builds, conversions and extensions. Running my own business means that I need to juggle projects and be able to be flexible and respond to people’s queries quickly. I plan my diary a couple of weeks in advance and need to be able to manage people’s expectations for deadlines.

Architecture is a balance between art and science. If you want to study architecture it’s good to be aware that different courses will have different focuses. Some Universities are very technical, some are arty and some are more sculptural than architectural. The best thing you can do is to know yourself and where you fall on that scale so that you can find the right course for you. Lots of students drop out because they chose the wrong course for them.

Am I an arty person or technical drawing person? I am sat somewhere in the middle!

At sixth form I studied Maths, Physics and Design Technology and I sketched and painted in my own time. Architecture is a 7 year course, I did my degree at Leicester Poly (now De Montfort Uni) and did placements at a family firm and a large commercial practise in London. Doing these placements gave me confidence in my drawing abilities and an opportunity to put my CAD (computer aided design) skills into practise – it was new technology back in those days!

Finding the right employer when you do your work placements is important. When it’s right, you know it. I enjoyed both of the jobs straight away, working with the people and places.

I then went on to work at a boutique firm that did commercial and residential architecture. I organised an office fit-out for a client and ended up starting an interior fit-out team and managing it. Now I run my own business and I’m really enjoying it.

I used to tutor architecture students at the University of Plymouth and when I stopped doing this, I was approached about the Enterprise Adviser role. I enjoy getting out of the office and being able to bring my thoughts about the working world into the school.

Initially I gave them lots of contacts to get employers engaged with the school, using my business contacts in the construction industry and also clients I’d worked with, which was nice. We did a presentation to the students about construction, demonstrating the breadth of opportunity in the industry – showing over 200 trades and 100 different jobs in design! We also organised a site visit to a development site. The students got to visit four times over the year so that they could see the progress and see a project grow in real life.

I’ve taken part in mentoring at the school. We worked with a really talented group of year 7s, bigging them up and raising their aspirations, and we’ve also worked with a group of year 11s who were struggling with their grades, helping them to feel motivated to study hard.

We’ve run workshops to help students develop the essential soft skills they need for the world of work; team building, collaboration and communication. They had to design a bridge, purchase the materials they needed and then build it. We got great feedback from the students, they found it worthwhile and they appreciated our input.

It’s amazing how few encounters it takes to have a positive impact on a young person. I want as many people to get the benefit as possible and if employers want the best out of the future generation, they can help with that by getting involved!