Taking the plunge in male world: A radical firm of female plumbers wants to change the trade's macho image

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The Independent Online

People who think that women aren't strong enough to be plumbers should think again. "Anyone who can give birth is stronger than they look," says Hattie Hasan.

Since she became a plumber 20 years ago, Hasan says she has encountered discrimination so ridiculous that it's not even funny: "Someone asked me how I managed to lift a heavy boiler on to a wall six feet up. I replied, 'with my brain'..."

Now she's aiming to change the industry with a new scheme to help women plumbers. West Yorkshire-based Hasan established the delightfully named Stopcocks Women Plumbers in 1990 after finding that full-time employment in such a male-dominated field was surprisingly tricky.

"In those days women in the manual trades were a rare sight," she says. "Women plumbers were even rarer." As the only woman in her own college it was a milestone for Hasan and the college to have a woman qualify as a plumber with distinctions.

Stopcocks was one of the first companies of women plumbers in the UK and since its inception has evolved into a national brand helping women go into business and, most important, says Hasan, "stay in business..."

She says that there are number of myths that she is at pains to bust. First women can be plumbers. Second, it's not only women who use women plumbers. Stopcocks has customers from every social class and gender. And women can do the heavy work. Moreover, she says, "women make the best plumbers because they realise the importance of respect. They turn up on time, do a careful and well-executed job and tidy up after themselves..."

The Stopcocks Business Scheme was set up earlier this year in response to the number of emails Hasan was receiving from women looking for a way into a career as a plumber. Although Stopcocks has been supporting women plumbers for many years, it was clear that a new way of thinking was needed to solve the problems in the current economic climate.

"The Stopcocks Business Scheme gives women plumbers a way to be part of a national brand, build up their customer base and increase their skills and speed without worrying about the business side of things so they can concentrate on the thing that earns the money... the plumbing," she says. The scheme is designed for women who have completed plumbing courses at college, such as the City & Guilds 6129, 6089, NVQ Level 2 and 3, and those currently training who want to get straight in and start earning.

British tradespeople don't always have the best reputation. But Stopcocks has a strict code of conduct, says Hasan. "We have been building the brand on the four pillars of respect, quality of service, peace of mind and aftercare and it's these codes which have kept the brand at the top and kept the customers coming back time and again."

When you sign up to the scheme, you get to use the Stopcocks branding (and assumption of quality), business cards, professional flyers, a telephone answering service, pricing support, technical advice, monthly business-building teleclasses and a subscription to the leading trade magazine Plumbing and Heating Monthly.

Despite her own success, says Hasan, "judging by the emails received from women every day in the Stopcocks office, the industry still has a long way to go."

Sharon Walker is a recently recruited "Stopcocker". She says that when she finished college she spent three months looking for a job. "I applied to all the local firms and was at the point of giving up when I Googled women plumbers, almost in desperation."

She joined Stopcocks in January this year and in the first week received three work enquiries. "I hadn't thought of working for myself," she says, "I didn't have the confidence and I had no idea what I needed to do to get customers. I had this belief that people wouldn't want to employ a woman and that I wouldn't be able to cope with the job."

Walker has been benefiting from the advice she has been getting. "As far as the jobs go, it's so comforting knowing I can call up and speak to someone experienced," she says, "like the other day when I was called to a really troublesome fitting. I just couldn't get it apart and started to feel really weak. Hattie advised me on the phone to heat the fitting with the blowtorch for a few seconds and it solved the problem. I'll never forget that now. It's great because, I work for myself but I'm not alone, and that is really exciting..."

Stopcocks needs more women to join its ranks....For more information onthe scheme visit: http://stopcocks.net/StopcocksBusinessScheme.htm

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