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Fiona Woolston

Fiona Woolston is a senior account manager at Copper Consultancy which specialises in delivering campaigns that build acceptance and excitement for the country’s major infrastructure and development schemes, and she has been in her role for two years.

HOW HAS YOUR COMPANY HAD TO RESPOND TO THE CORONAVIRUS CRISIS? We gave our colleagues full flexibility to work from home the moment the health crisis became apparent and we will continue to provide this for those who it suits. But it is how we have responded to the crisis to support our clients that has seen us deliver innovative engagement and provide indispensable guidance. We have coached our clients to embrace digital opportunities and subsequently we have delivered traditionally held face-to-face consultation and engagement online.

HAS THE LOCKDOWN PRESENTED ANY OPPORTUNITIES AS WELL AS CHALLENEGES? Facilitating stakeholder and community engagement online presents opportunities for developers to build advocacy for their schemes and minimise negativity.

For example, during online consultation webinars, we have found that stakeholders express their concerns in a constructive manner. Because of the structured format of a webinar and the fact that all parties can hear individual responses, discussions have been arguably more efficient than those within the format of a typical public exhibition.

Traditional approaches to consultation typically attract those who are against development. Digital engagement can reach beyond this audience to seldom-heard groups who stand to benefit most and who are likely champion development.

WHAT DO THINK THE CURRENT CRISIS WILL MEAN FOR YOUR INDUSTRY IN THE MONTHS AND YEARS TO COME? Construction will be key to the revitalisation of the economy and bringing people back into the workforce. However, going forward, greater emphasis will be put on how projects are delivered, and what wider benefits they bring to neighbouring communities.

The crisis has fostered a strong sense of community across the country, and highlighted the importance of good quality housing, the accessibility of public space and city centre design and functionality. In the coming years I expect greater scrutiny on schemes and the expectation that they will deliver wider social prosperity and quality of life beyond immediate users.

To minimise negativity, we must bring people on the development journey from start to finish. We can do this by using the Enquiry by Design process and by running design charrettes, both of which are effective ways of involving communities in the design and planning process to successfully build scheme advocacy and deliver buildings that make a difference.

HOW DO YOU GET THE BEST OUT OF YOUR STAFF? We have a fantastic team of engagement, media and communications professionals at Copper Birmingham. Each one is brimming with ideas so I provide guidance on how to structure those thoughts so they can successfully take the reins. Giving your team autonomy will make them feel trusted and valued, giving them the confidence to be creative and generate innovations. Your team will not grow and develop if you hold them back.   

HOW MANY EMAILS DO YOU TEND TO GET IN A DAY, AND HOW MUCH TIME DO YOU HAVE TO READ THEM? On average, I receive over a hundred emails a day and I dedicate chunks of time to reading them. However, if you want to get my attention, be sure to put ‘urgent’ in the subject.

HOW DO YOU HOPE YOUR COLLEAGUES WOULD DESCRIBE YOU? Empathic but also straightforward, and maybe a little quirky.

HIGHLIGHTS OF YOUR CAREER SO FAR? Earlier in the year, Copper nominated me to attend the Major Projects Association’s Rising Stars Programme, and I have now been selected to sit on the Association’s Programme Committee. This gave me the motivational boost I needed to set myself the goal of taking up the Copper Birmingham Directorship in the New Year.

ANY PARTICULAR FAUX PAS OR EMBARRASSING MOMENTS IN YOUR CAREER YOU WOULD PREFER TO FORGET? I would never tell.

PET HATES? Tardiness.

IF YOU COULD GO BACK AND GIVE YOUR YOUNGER SELF SOME WISE ADVICE, WHAT WOULD IT BE? You set your own aims and aspirations, not others.

HOW DO YOU RELAX AWAY FROM WORK? I love reading a good book (anything sci-fi or dystopian), and tending to my garden and watching the wildlife. Although I have less luck with houseplants, which I kill on a regular basis.

WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IS SPECIAL ABOUT THE BIRMINGHAM BUSINESS COMMUNITY? Everyone you meet is willing to go the extra mile to help you build your network and connect you to those who may be interested in your work, as well as support your professional development.

TELL US SOMETHING ABOUT YOU THAT MOST PEOPLE PROBABLY WOULDN’T KNOW. While volunteering on a development programme in the Dominican Republic in 2012, I helped to build a sewage system and a house for the community we worked in. I also learnt to mix cement by hand and lay bricks, which has come in handy at home.

YOU CAN TAKE ONE BOOK, ONE FILM AND ONE CD ONTO A DESERT ISLAND – WHAT WOULD THEY BE? 1984 by George Orwell, Blade Runner, and London Calling by the Clash.

YOUR FIVE DREAM DINNER PARTY GUESTS, DEAD OR ALIVE? Emmeline Pankhurst, Jacinda Ardern, Rosa Parks, Ada Lovelace and Joe Strummer.

WHAT WOULD YOU CHOOSE TO EAT FOR YOUR LAST SUPPER? My husband Andy makes the best roast potatoes in the world, so it would have to be a plate full of those smothered in onion and leek gravy!

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