Danna Walker, alumna, BA Architecture graduate turned social entrepreneur
Danna Walker has taken an unusual route to her current role, Founder/Director of Built By Us, a social enterprise encouraging diversity in the construction industry and opening it up to new pools of talent.
“I left school back in 1987 and started as an apprentice electrician. Though being a female apprentice in an all-male world was challenging, my interest in design and construction was piqued.”
Having been exposed to the construction industry, Danna saw an advert in a local newspaper, South London Press, about a Women in Architecture course - "I had no idea how to make the change to architecture and discovered that London South Bank University had an access course.”
From electrician to architect
“For me becoming an architect seemed like an exotic dream. At school our careers advisers rarely mentioned professional routes and I didn’t know anyone who was an architect. The thing that really inspired me to study architecture was my desire to make change and improve housing and community architecture particularly for those from lower income backgrounds, like me, who get few choices in housing.”
The access course led to a degree in Architecture and after graduating from LSBU in 1997 Danna worked at award-winning practice Shepheard Epstein Hunter for nine years, on projects ranging in scale from a major regeneration scheme to the refurbishment of a historic building. During this time, Danna was motivated to try and help change the demographic of those she always saw sat around the table.
“Inclusion has been a common thread throughout my career, my experience of being the one black female in the room, seeing how social and economic exclusion impacts lives, was very influential. I set up Built By Us in 2016 as a social enterprise to challenge exclusion by connecting diverse talent of all ages to the construction sector and helping businesses find the skills they need.
Changing the face of construction
“Construction is a fascinating industry to be part of, because it offers so many opportunities to make change. But with opportunity comes responsibility and while I wouldn’t describe myself as outgoing I know it’s important to be visible because there are so few visible women of colour in the industry. Our lack of visibility can create challenges around being taken seriously, however this is a challenge that can be overcome.
“By addressing diversity, being asked to the party and importantly, being asked to dance, I believe we can create the disruption required to create a better working culture for everyone and a more inclusive built environment for society at large. I love a challenge and my role provides many opportunities to be challenged. I’m passionate about making change and supporting others, so it’s wonderful when I see people becoming engaged, empowered and more confident through my work. Built By Us blends recruitment services and development to support candidates and clients with a mix of mentoring, workshops and partnerships.
“Would I recommend the construction industry to any potential students considering this path? Most definitely. Ultimately the construction industry is about finding ways to solve problems and create shelter, comfort and identity while shaping a more inclusive environment. So my advice would be to keep your focus on WHY you’re doing your role and how it contributes to the bigger picture.
“I believe that everyone can make a positive contribution to the built environment, it’s too important to be left to the few.”