Over 100 medieval castles, cathedrals and even Blackpool’s Tower Ballroom are all on the CV of a mum of three who has carved out a career in the macho world of the construction industry.
Victoria Godberford, 38, now runs her own health and safety consultancy from bases in Denbigh and Chester and is as comfortable setting up remote e–learning courses as she is donning hard hat, hi-vis jacket and steel toe-capped boots for site inspections.
The former Howell’s School girl is from Rhuallt and studied marketing at Staffordshire University before getting into construction with her stonemason father Geoff’s specialist restoration construction company, Chester Masonry.
She said: “I always wanted to have my own business but I hadn’t considered construction – I wanted to be the person behind the TV advertisements.
“But then in my third year in university I came to work for my father and my uncle and became interested in stained glass windows.
“My claim to fame is that I leaded the whole of the historic stained glass West Window at Shrewsbury Abbey, taking out the old lead and then replacing it so the glass could go back in.
“Then I was doing photographic surveys for architects and writing reports and my dad said they needed someone to do Health and Safety for the business – and that was me.”
Victoria gained her qualifications at Yale College in Wrexham – now part of Coleg Cambria – and at the age of 22 was managing the H&S for the whole company, carrying out risk assessments and putting new customs and systems into practice, changing established cultures.
She said: “It was quite a challenge but an exciting time to be starting out in H&S, writing new procedures and creating a new culture around construction and restoration.
“The attitude was that ‘we have always done it this way, why should we change’.
“They had worked on sites for years, they were middle-aged men and trying to teach them to change their behaviour was a major challenge.
“I do think it actually helped to be a woman on a building site – having two brothers and working in construction I tend to get on well with men because I’ve always been around them and enjoy their company.
“It’s always interesting and always a challenge because every site is unique, no two sites are ever exactly the same.”
What is certainly not the same is the rate of death and injury on UK construction sites which have fallen dramatically since the first Health and Safety at Work Act in 1974.
Victoria points out that while it can be fashionable to mock health and safety regulations, they have been responsible for saving lives in building and other industries.
In 1974 almost 700 people died at work in the UK, a high proportion on construction sites, a number that has fallen by 85 per cent since then while reported injuries have gone down by 58 per cent.
Victoria said: “That shows how vital it is because it’s not just box-ticking, it’s about saving lives.
“There are so many people alive today and enjoying comfortable retirements who wouldn’t have made it without Health & Safety regulations.”
She uses a network of eight freelance local H&S experts so that the business covers all of England and Wales but she always makes the initial visit for a new contract and develops the H&S plan herself.
Her work continues to be a mix of modern construction and heritage sites and while many construction skills remain traditional the digital world is increasingly important in the building industry which is where Victoria has seen and embraced major changes.
She said: “It’s so easy for paperwork to get lost on site and if that happens and the Health and Safety Executive call and want to see everything immediately you can be in trouble.
“But these days we can ensure that it is all stored in a safe place online where it can be easily accessed and at the next tier up managers and directors can see just how a site is performing and being managed.
“E-learning is an area I am increasingly moving into because it creates opportunities for people to learn on their lunch breaks or in the evening with courses that are fully approved and certificated with exams at the end.
“We offer a free first module of each course as a trial and it’s proving very popular because the cost-saving is huge online, even for courses like asbestos training, and it saves time and organisation as well.
“This is a real growth area because I can set up access online for my clients and they tell me which courses they and their staff need to do.
“I put the courses into their account and when they’re completed they get instant certification.
“I am looking at extending this service by setting up a separate website for non-construction courses such as business management and first aid and these could be of use for schools as well.”
Victoria’s own career highlight was the contract with CADW, the Welsh historic buildings organisation: “I was up against some massive companies and I hadn’t long started on my own and I had two very young children but I won it and I worked with them for more than four years so I think the message is that you can do anything if you put your mind to it.
“It took me to every castle in Wales, seeing behind the scenes and making sure the public were safe without losing the feeling that they were in a medieval castle.
“It was rewarding but on the other side everyone has setbacks but it’s what you learn from them and how you react to them that counts – never make the same mistake twice.”
She sums up her approach as bespoke, professional and cost effective and said: “It’s focused on the client and whatever they want we will make it happen and that’s the key to being in business.
“You have to listen to your customers because they are the most important element of your business. If you haven’t got them then you haven’t got a business.
“You also have to be prepared to take a risk or you will have to settle for the ordinary.
“My dad always inspired me and still does now. He’s a stonemason and is now Contracts Director at my older brother Jamie’s business, Recclesia, Principal Contractors specialising in building conservation and restoration.
“Jamie also runs Whitmore and White, a food and wine merchants in Frodsham and Heswall, while my younger brother, Tom, is The Game Chef down on Exmoor.
“We all run our own businesses and that’s not always easy when there’s so much to do but I’m quite an independent person so it suits me very well.”