A series of free workshops on sustainable building run by the FLASH programme and aimed at London small businesses have proved "invaluable" for architect Margaret Reynolds.
Long before most architects had even grasped the concept of low carbon buildings, Margaret Reynolds was immersed in the world of sustainable design. A graduate of architecture in 1983, Reynolds acquired an MPhil in Sustainable Design from Cambridge University back in 1999. She worked at A C Architects, a Cambridge-based practice at the cutting edge of sustainability in the build environment between 2006 and 2008 and completed her first Level 5 Code for Sustainable Homes project in 2009. At the end of the project, the recession had already begun to bite, however, and instead of finding her green building expertise in demand, Reynolds was "beached", as she puts it.
"I had to fall back on doing book-keeping for a film company," she explains candidly.
A knack for re-inventing herself means Reynolds is 'back in the water’ again now, among other things working as a speaker on sustainable design, a lecturer on architecture, and as a mentor for students of architecture. She’s also extending her practical skills in sustainable design, retrofitting her own property in Kings Cross, London, to Passivhaus standard.
While much of her new-found work and future plans can be put down to her own resourcefulness, Reynolds puts at least some of it down to a series of workshops run by the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) she’s attended over the last 15 months.
The workshops have covered a range of sustainable build subjects, including natural ventilation, insulation, retrofitting ancient and listed buildings, and 'phase change’ materials. They are part of the FLASH programme, a £10 million European-funded initiative aimed at London small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the construction sector, which are looking to take advantage of business opportunities being presented by the UK’s growing low carbon economy.
"They have been invaluable," says Reynolds. "They have highlighted many technical issues, but they’ve also proved hugely valuable for contacts-building, so when questions arise or I need advice I can get onto people and ask them questions or get their recommendations of companies or products."
Reynolds says she’s had a job interview as a consequence of the FLASH workshops and is now the 'sustainability blogger’ for the prestigious Architects’ Journal because of a contact she made at one of the workshops.
"They are also geared to get people into enterprise," she says, pointing to a series of 'business start-up’ workshops she attended at Greenwich University. These led to exploratory discussions with at least two companies about possible future work.
"One is a builder looking for drawings for retrofits and another is a construction firm looking at Green Deal."
Reynolds admits she’d "still love to be part of a firm [of architects]", but she says the FLASH programme has given her the confidence to know she doesn’t have to "jump at a full-time job".
And her newfound entrepreneurial spirit means there’s no let up on the new opportunities Reynolds sees her specialist knowledge and passion for sustainable building and energy efficiency could take her. "I plan to become trained as a Green Deal Assessor to boost my energy surveying work," she says.