Behind the job - Nichola Speight, Landscape Architect

  • 23rd June 2021

Tell us about your job

I would say the biggest skill or trait would be versatility. No two days are the same within this role, you could be working on a multi-million pound UK hospital one day and a residential project in Egypt the next. 

Being an organised and efficient project manager is also a vital skill, there are so many elements to my job, from site surveys to developing concept designs and presenting to clients, to producing the technical construction drawings and specifications. Given the varied aspects of the role you also meet a lot of people, so being sociable and a good communicator is essential.

In terms of academia, I was always pulled towards art and science which led to me pursuing A-Levels in Art, Biology, English Literature and Communication Studies which taught me lots about presentation skills and working and communicating successfully with others.  

I then went on to do a BA (Hons) in Landscape Architecture at Manchester Metropolitan University, followed by a year's post graduate degree to become a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture and after a few years working in industry, proudly became a Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute. 

What does your job entail day-to-day?

There are a lot of different factors from one day to the next and it’s this variety that I love. I could be drawing up sketch designs one day, allowing me to use my creative skills. Then I’ll be doing a site survey for another project the next day or resolving technical issues and site queries liaising with contractors on site. Then, of course, some days you get to see the finished results!

What do you enjoy most about your job?

Seeing the finished space, regardless of whether that is a small urban outdoor meeting spot or a huge university campus. Seeing people using the environment, in the way it was intended to be used, is incredibly rewarding. 

Being a people person, I love meeting and working with a variety of interesting people, from artists, designers and engineers to the end users of the spaces and the communities that you’re designing for. 

What advice would you give to someone considering a career such as yours? 

I didn’t realise the scope of opportunities that are available under the landscape architect banner when I first started out.  As I've developed my experience, I've realised there’s so much you can do with your career. For example, you can stay within the public sector to support and improve local communities or work for an international practice that allows you to travel and explore new countries and cultures. 

If you care about the environment and want to make a significant impact on society, then this could be the job for you. 

Oh and please remember, a landscape architect does so much more than design a back garden! 

What project have you most enjoyed working on or are you most proud of? 

Following the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, I was seconded from my then job to Christchurch to help to redesign and masterplan the beautiful city. 

In the eight months I was there, I have never felt as humbled. Living among the communities that had had their lives turned upside down but were still optimistic about what the city could be was incredible. To think that I played a part in regenerating such a wonderful place is genuinely an amazing feeling.

What do you see as the future of your industry over the next 5 years? 

Like most industries, Covid-19 has changed everything and makes it difficult to predict what will happen in the future.

We are, as a nation and as a globe, a lot more used to outdoor living now whether that is people doing up their gardens or local authorities investing in better equipped, Covid-safe outdoor spaces. 

I was recently involved in a residential project in Egypt where we designed a series of community gardens. Due to Covid, the client wished to have work pods added to it, complete with electricity and internet access. This enabled people to get out of the house and have a quiet, private space to go for work meetings, headspace and so on. These types of zones could become commonplace soon.

It looks like the traditional office setup will change permanently too, reducing the amount of office time in favour of home working and meeting up face-to-face as and when needed, which has significantly changed peoples work life balance and travel time. 

What’s been an amazing shift in the industry over the past 15 years is its focus on the environment and becoming more and more sustainable which will ramp up a lot more as we move towards the Net-Zero goal.

You work with Coleman James. Why do you choose them as your recruitment partner of choice? 

Before Coleman James, I had never used a recruitment partner. I had just started to think about mixing things up a bit when Olivia reached out, it felt like perfect timing. 

Working with Olivia and the team has, and continues to be, amazing. I hadn’t written a CV for a while, let alone prepared for an interview so having that friendly, supportive person there to help guide me was fantastic. 

Olivia still messages now asking how I am getting on at Ryder. She’s been great!