Ringing changes in city of projects

Raymond Snoddy interviews a leading woman in the role of project manager and discovers that women are on the rise

By chance London’s Barbican Centre has played an important role in the career of Carol Bell, a senior project manager with more than 25 years’ experience.

While working for construction consultants Robinson Low Francis, she faced the challenging task of carving two 150-seat cinemas, complete with café and restaurant, from an old Barbican exhibition hall.

“It was really quite challenging, but it’s a lovely place to be in and I think they are very pleased with it,” says Ms Bell, who began in construction as “a hard-hat and muddy-boots” person and then added expertise in a wide range of disciplines to become a project manager.

While completing the Barbican cinema project, by coincidence the City of London Corporation, owners of the Barbican, decided to expand its project management team by adding a senior principal project manager.

Apart from the Barbican, the Corporation is responsible for many historic buildings in the Square Mile, including the Mansion House and Tower Bridge, plus more recent additions.

Ms Bell got the job and returned to the Barbican again – this time to create more space for the City of London School for Girls in the Centre.

Women already make up 30 per cent of the profession – and rising

“We have fairly innovative ways of looking at how we can gain more space – building into a courtyard at the lower-ground-floor level and also perhaps putting in another floor at what is currently the deep end of the swimming pool for a dance studio,” she says. Earlier in her career she was deputy project manager on a world-famous development – the Eden Project – personally responsible for the 29 main planning applications involved.

Apart from the Barbican, Ms Bell, who runs the project department under the City of London project director, is also involved with the multi-million refurbishment and modernisation of the Central Criminal Court – the Old Bailey.

An essential aim is to avoid disrupting the work of the courts or attracting complaints from judges about noise.

“There is an enormous amount of work being done, but mostly people won’t notice it happening. We don’t want to stop the sitting of the courts so that an enormous amount of the work is being scheduled out of hours,” says Ms Bell, who was the first winner of the property category in the Women in the City awards.

In fact, disruption of normal services has to be avoided in any project in the City of London.

“It is important, wherever we are working, that we allow the City to carry on doing its business as it needs to do without interruption, because interruption in the City is very, very expensive,” she emphasises.

Her knowledge covers everything from issues of cost, time and quality, to risk assessment and being an expert witness in property disputes.

“You keep adding to your various areas of expertise until you have a big comprehensive set and that is when you become a project manager,” says Ms Bell, who notes women already make up 30 per cent of the profession – and rising.

Apart from encouraging young people to consider employment in the construction and property sectors, she has another project in mind – the Little Britain Challenge Cup, the regatta for the construction industry raced every September.

She captains a Woman in Property boat and, while the boat is probably fully crewed for September, being a project manager, she is already looking for names for 2014.