As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, Allison Walters has faced multiple challenges in her professional life. Now, as the Founder and Director of awSCAPE Ltd, Allison talks to The Industry Leaders about her journey so far and how she and her business have managed to thrive despite several obstacles.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
I kind of fell into landscape architecture. My background is in environmental biology. After recovering from cancer when I was 22, I did a C&G course in garden design, but really I wanted to be an ecologist. I spotted a job that combined ecology with landscape architecture and ended up spending 3 years part-time doing a Post Grad in Landscape Architecture and carried on from there. But after my dad died of cancer, I realised I needed to spread my wings and set up on my own, so here I am now.
What kind of work does your role involve?
What I do is bring everyday nature to everyone's doorstep. That's my ethos and what drives me. I design places that maximise wildlife and have strong sustainability principles. So I help people achieve these, whether it be in someone's home to large scale developments. That can be sustainable drainage, orchards, meadows, planting schemes, redesigning spaces, threading greenery through developments to create beautiful spaces.
What gets you excited about your industry?
Landscape architecture is an industry that can help people reconnect with the earth, make people enjoy their spaces and places, to bring new life and energy to the old.
But for me, it is more than that. It is about changing the way we live, appreciating the weeds as wildflowers, looking at how we can live a more sustainable and fulfilled life with what is around us, appreciating the little things that can make a huge difference to the larger things, and each one of us helping to repair our environment a little bit at a time. For example, the humble dandelion and its connection to bees and how invaluable that is in Spring.
I think our industry can teach people how to live more sustainably, and that's what excites me.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
I wouldn't say I have had any advice as such because advice comes from someone else's perspective and views. What I have had, though, is a year of transformation working with my coach Nicky Bartley. I have had an incredible year of unlearning the negative and demoralising thoughts that I believed were true, to understanding that I can let go of any thought as we are not in charge of thought. This has helped me show up as myself, find my core values, passion and belief in my abilities, understand my feelings and what they mean, and be human. This has been my gift to me.
What, or who inspires you?
I think the imbalance that we are going through at the moment inspires me. That might sound strange, but for years there has been an imbalance. The imbalance has been apparent in the male/female role, a Mother Earth that is pulled and poked, an imbalance in our wealth, and an imbalance in our ability to care. I have this deep desire to be a big change maker, inspire others, both male and female, show others how to give strength and love to so many to create a far-reaching ripple effect.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I am a member of the Landscape Institute, which holds regular training events for landscape architects, but there are many publications associated with my industry. I particularly like Pro Landscaper in particular because it covers all of the landscape industry and really questions and delves deeply into the issues we are facing. CIRIA are also a good source of information on Sustainable Drainage, and I have attended their courses. Gardener's World covers some of the issues we face daily too.
However, I really don't think there is anything that really knuckles down and shows people how to live more sustainably a little bit at a time. This is why I will be looking into launching my own YouTube channel and 'My Sustainable Future' project. Watch this space.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
Apart from cancer?
The most challenging aspect of my entire working life has been to be a female in a male-dominated industry. In amongst all the fun times and the many good bits and successes that I have worked hard to achieve, I have also experienced sexual harassment, bullying, being undermined, salary inequalities, being told I cannot achieve and, as a working mum, the crippling costs of childcare.
How did I overcome all of these?
I think if you can't change the organisation or situation, which I tried very hard to do, you need to leave the organisation. And that is what I did. For me, the wake-up call to completely and radically change everything was losing my dad to cancer. It made me see clearly, set up my own business and be true to me for the benefit of myself and my family. It has also given me the space to seek the help I needed to deal with the challenges I have faced throughout my life, improve my well-being, move forward, and hopefully inspire others.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I'd find the person who lost it.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
At the minute, we are binge-watching 'The Walking Dead!' Haha. It has kept us going through Lockdown 3. But I do like taking a walk up the garden and seeing if my seedlings are growing in my greenhouse, even if I only planted them the day before...you never know!!
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
To make them see that the power to change our world is by inspiring the people who live in it and not the people who are already doing it. The ripple effect.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
SPONS external works and landscape price book. Only joking!!!
I love 'The Little Book of Hygge - Danish Secrets to Happy Living by Meik Wiking. It has got feel-good written all over it.
How should people connect with you?
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