17th Feb 2021 — Meet our mentors!

Meet our mentors!

“Mentoring is a rewarding, enjoyable way to support the next generation of practitioners.”


The RIBA is right with this statement. However, not only is mentoring rewarding and enjoyable, it’s essential if we want to improve the accessibility of our industry and increase the diversity among our future colleagues and collaborators.


SWA is an ethical office, working hard to embed equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) within our daily practice. In 2018 we put pen to paper and have been implementing an evolving EDI Vision ever since. Part of this ever-growing vision (more on that to come soon!) includes the sharing of our knowledge and cultural capital with people from architecture’s under-represented groups. One way that we do this is through mentoring programmes, because we recognise that the barriers to architecture are present before, during and after education begins.


Currently, SWA staff mentor young people as part of the Blueprint for All (formally Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust) Building Futures programme and also through the Arts Emergency mentoring scheme. Both schemes last a year, but mentors are encouraged to build long-lasting, professional relationships with their mentees.


Of our small office of nine, four are mentors, including Director Sarah Wigglesworth. Our Diversity Champion, Clare Bond, currently mentors through both programmes, meaning five young people are being mentored by SWA staff through 2021.


Do I have enough experience? Will I have enough time? Am I the right role model for this young person? These are all questions that crossed our minds before we took the plunge into mentoring – the short answer is yes! For those who want to know more, our current mentors have shared a snippet of their mentoring experience to date. The headline: we cannot recommend it enough! At the end of this article, we have also included the details of both programmes we mentor through, with plenty of time for you to get the ball rolling before the next intake!


I started mentoring last summer with Blueprint for All and inevitably got the mentoring bug, so signed up for Arts Emergency mentoring for 2021 as well. My BFA mentee is a Part 1 architecture graduate, whereas my AE mentee is currently studying AS levels. As you would expect, the conversations I have with them vary hugely which is proving to be a good challenge for me. The AE programme started in January and I meet my mentee once a month for an hour. At the moment this is virtual, however, fingers crossed we can start to visit galleries, museums and other inspirational spaces later in the year! Since July, I have been meeting my first mentee approximately every 2 weeks, on MS teams for 45mins-1.5 hours (depending on what interesting things have been happening). We did speak about reducing this, but both felt the mutual support during Covid-19 was really helpful. We have covered CV/portfolio reviews, interview techniques, the masters course, part 3 content, design ideas/passion projects and shared notes on how to stay sane during a pandemic, just to name a few!


My mentee, who is a Part 1 architecture graduate, and myself have met about eight times since last summer, on a frequency of about once every three weeks to a month. We meet depending on need, typically, but not always, at the request of my mentee. Early on we developed a conversation around our backgrounds and experience. Latterly we have focussed on advice relating to specific situations arising, such as how to organise a portfolio, how to present yourself and communicate well, applying for work and interview techniques. All this has been in the context of discussions around how the industry works, what to expect of practice, what to expect as a junior in the architectural field, and how to know and ask for what you want. I’m pleased to say that they have recently secured a job offer!


My decision to start mentoring came from an acknowledgement that at a younger age some friendly and reassuring conversation would have significantly helped me. Before attending university, I had never even met an architect. I had my preconceptions about it, but I had no clue what steps I needed to take to become an architect or what working in an office would be like, something which I think education also fails to prepare you for. So, it has been a pleasure to use mentoring as a way to help provide some reassurance to my mentee who is currently in their 3rd year of studying architecture. We’ve used our catch-ups to discuss a broad number of topics including what you can expect from part 1 experience, the masters course, part 3, and so on; we’ve looked over each other’s CVs and portfolios; discussed topic’s concerning their dissertation and themes they are interested in within architecture such as accessibility, sustainability and housing. It’s been great to know that these conversations have helped my mentee push their projects and thinking forward, and they use me as a soundboard to bounce around ideas. Overall, mentoring is a really enjoyable process, which I look forward to and would recommend to others.


Blueprint for all, Building Futures Mentoring Programme

Contact: Maia Ojerinde-Ardalla  / maia@blueprintforall.org


Arts Emergency Mentoring Programme

Contact: Hetty Davies / hetty@arts-emergency.org