Helen Piggott

Helen Piggott

What do you do?

As a Coastal Estates Engineer, I mainly organise maintenance of my lifeboat stations and other assets, form small repair like leaky taps and wobbly door handles, to large alterations like major infrastructure overhauls. I love speaking to all the crew around the coast and understanding their different challenges and seeing how pleased they are with improvements I make to their facilities. I really enjoy working with such a friendly group of people and find the passion they have is infectious. Seeing a lifeboat crew launch whilst you are on station gives you a real sense of pride and awe at what they do every day, it really helps me to see what a difference my role makes to their operations each and every day. Ensuring a lifeboat can launch quickly, safely and easily in an emergency situation is my top priority and with the two busiest lifeboat stations the RNLI has in my area this comes with its own challenges, from ensuring a boathouse door opens when it needs to, to feeding into project meetings for new build lifeboat stations.

What does a typical day at work look like?

There is no such thing as a typical day in my role. Every day is different and in my position I have a huge amount of autonomy and get to plan my working week to suit my workload and requirements outside of work.

Sometimes I work from home and respond to emails and phone calls and write up reports and orders for work. Other days I might be travelling to a lifeboat station further away and possibly staying nearby to catch a particularly low tide for an inspection or to undertake work. I might be meeting a contractor on site to discuss some work we need doing and collaboratively work out the best way to achieve the result I need, or I might be heading down to our main offices in Poole to meet with multidisciplinary teams to plan for a new project at a particular site. Generally I have my phone on me at all times and my car is my mobile office, with all my kit in the boot from lifejackets and safety boots to waders and wellies. My job is largely about communication and maintaining good relationships with the volunteers and my contractors and making sure everyone is happy with what is happening and that it is happening safely and efficiently. 

How did you get to where you are?

After school I joined an Architects’ firm as a Secretary where they trained me up to undertake CAD drawing, 3D modelling, flythroughs & graphic design. Unfortunately I was made redundant in 2007. I did night classes in City and Guilds in 2D & 3D AutoCAD Drafting to formalise my training & then started my own company to do the same work. I started a Foundation and Masters in Civil Engineering at the University of Surrey. I continued to run my company whilst studying for 3 years, after which I was sponsored by a Consultant, Tony Gee & Partners, who gave me a scholarship & provided work experience in my holidays & placement year.

Once I graduated I went to work for Tony Gee in the Marine team, where I worked on temporary works projects such as Portsmouth Docks & the Thames Tideway Tunnel. Temporary works is what gets you from the beginning to the finished product, e.g. on the Portsmouth Docks project I was looking at a sequence of demolition to allow the defunct jetty portions to be removed without overloading the remaining sections.

I went to work at the Port of Dover to experience working for a Client. I became an accredited NEC3 Project Manager, responsible for drafting, tendering & managing contracts with a variety of Contractors & Consultants for the Port Development team. I was working on structures such as the Grade II listed Cruise Terminal Building where I looked at how to protect the building from overtopping waves, to working on the brand new Western Docks project looking at how to protect the marine environment from harmful waste washed down the drains.

I joined the RNLI as a Coastal Estates Engineer because I wanted the opportunity to use my skills & experience to benefit those in need but still maintain this hands-on approach to projects. My role is very varied as I am responsible for all aspects of maintenance in my area (Kent, London and Essex) from Lifeboat Stations to Lifeguard huts & domestic dwellings.

What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

I spend most of my spare time volunteering for different organisations in different capacities. I am the Vice Chair for Diversity and Inclusion for the South East Region of the Institution of Civil Engineers, I am the Vice Chair for the Kent and East Sussex Graduates and Students of the Institution of Civil Engineers. I am part of a volunteer group aiming to improve the diversity of the construction industry called “Build Diversity” where I have an active role in both their educational outreach team and their mentoring team. I am also an active STEM Ambassador and regularly go into local schools and youth groups to speak to young people about careers in STEM and how to get there.

I also volunteer as a Brownie Leader for Girlguiding UK and spend a lot of my evenings getting my Brownies excited about engineering and science as well as baking, astronomy and community engagement. I also volunteer for the RSPCA, fostering cats and dogs when needed and helping at fetes by being the resident face painter.

When I’m not working or volunteering, I like to go kayaking or dog walking with my partner and enjoy exploring new areas and finding new spots to practice my photography skills. I am also currently planning my wedding, where I am planning to wear my RNLI wellies under my wedding dress to the ceremony!