Please tell us a bit about yourself.
My name is Ellie, I’m a Logistics Manager at Greenpeace UK which basically means I run the workshop and warehouse where we turn our campaign ideas into realities. Greenpeace campaigns for action to protect our natural world and prevent the worst impacts of climate change. This means we often need to highlight how the actions of governments and corporations are damaging the environment, and put pressure on them to change. One of our key tactics to achieve this is through creative interventions to grab media and public attention. That’s where the workshop comes in. We organise interventions such as stopping an oil rig in the North Sea from going to drill a new well, or bringing a giant polar bear puppet to Shell’s HQ when they are planning to drill the Arctic. We call these ‘direct actions’ because we are directly trying to prevent - or at least draw attention to - a bad thing which is happening.
There is a lot of practical and creative work involved in direct action - we have to work out how to turn a vision dreamt up by campaigners into a reality on the ground. We make and commission props, we figure out the safest possible plan that still achieves our goal, we work out what equipment is needed, we utilise our fleet of boats and vehicles, we work out which people we will need and train them. It’s a diverse job that ranges from mechanics and metal work to boat driving, managing inventories and training volunteers.
What made you choose this career?
This is the best job in the world for me! It combines the urgency I feel for tackling the climate and nature crisis with my love of practical work and learning new things. No two actions are the same, which means I’m always seeking new knowledge to meet the next challenge. I love the breadth of skills needed in order to be effective in a logistical role. It’s just as important to be able to communicate well with your team and with volunteers as it is to be able to read tide charts, design and make props and come up with last minute contingency plans. I see progression at work as constant learning, and with such a wide-ranging role it’s impossible not to feel that I am progressing. Because I am frequently switching between different specialisms, from welding to running a meeting to driving a forklift, the main skill I have had to master is how to learn - how to be patient, ask questions, persevere and not to be afraid of the unknown.
Did you go through formal education? If so, what did you study and where? If not please explain your journey.
As with many practical careers, there is no formal pathway to prepare you for being a logistics and warehouse manager at Greenpeace. My route into it was unconventional, and I learnt much of what I do on the job. I had a formal education in the sense that I got a degree in history. After graduating and bouncing between bar jobs, I landed an internship with an environmental campaigning NGO called People & Planet. At the time, I was beyond frustrated about the lack of action to protect our planet and I wanted to do
something about it. I loved going to work
everyday with people who were passionate about making a difference but I did not enjoy working in front of a computer all day. I couldn’t understand why activism was so inactive!
That was a turning point, I finished the internship and promptly went off to train as a bike mechanic. I figured cycling was an important part of a sustainable future and I was keen to learn a practical skill. But after about a year working in a commercial bike workshop, I was tired of the consumerism and waste. That’s when I decided to found my own workshop and the Broken Spoke Bike Co-op was born. It helps people love bikes by teaching them how to look after them and mend their own. The intention is to make workshops - and bike mechanics in particular - accessible, inclusive and affordable. Seven years later this workshop was still going strong but I needed a change. I’d kept up my climate activism alongside my responsibilities as a social entrepreneur so I had plenty of experience of direct action. When a job came up at Greenpeace which combined running a workshop with organising direct action I jumped at the chance.
Did this have a positive or negative impact on your chosen career?
Although I do have a formal University education I’ve ended up doing work that’s not directly related to that! I’ve no doubt that I learned skills from my degree that have since proved helpful, but I also think you could have a career like mine from lots of different routes.
I love my current work and unintentionally I gained the right skills set for it by following my instincts and finding work which felt important and impactful to me. In that sense, I have been very lucky. It's rare to find a job which combines doing something practical and creative with doing something that is socially important. However, as courses which teach practical and creative skills become increasingly available and begin to get the recognition they deserve I sometimes daydream about where I would be now if I had taken a route like that. I think I would be more specialised and sometimes that would make life easier. As a generalist I am an eternal beginner - always seeking new skills and starting over from scratch (boat driving, carpentry, 12 volt electrics and so on…), which is sometimes exhausting. But in reality, I wouldn’t change my journey. The thing about taking a route like mine is that the learning does not stop with the end of your formal education. I’m forever taking short courses and finding people who can teach me new skills. I truly see myself as a lifelong learner and I certainly never get bored!
Who inspires you?
My role models in a career sense are values-led leaders who break boundaries to do the right - and not the easy - thing. Political leaders like Harvey Milk (first openly gay elected official in the US), Angela Merkel (first female Chancellor of Germany) and US supreme court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who campaigned tirelessly to end discrimination on the basis of sex). These people broke boundaries in order to succeed and that takes courage. It is not easy to succeed when the world tells you that you will not be capable of something simply because of the body you are born into. However much we intellectually know there is no reason why a woman would be less good mechanics, politicians, lawyers or makers of any kind than a man there is a deep level of social conditioning which make such notions tenacious. I have lost track of the number of times a delivery person or client has addressed my male colleagues at the workshop assuming that they are in charge when the reverse is the case. I deeply admire people who dare to be the first to enter a profession or take on a leadership role which nobody like them has done before. People who face daily challenges of discrimination and continue to show up and do the work because they make a different future possible. After all - you can’t be what you can’t see.
What’s the scariest thing about your job and how have you overcome it?
I am responsible for people’s physical safety on actions, in training and in the workshop. This is a daunting responsibility given the risky and ambitious things we attempt. Our volunteers place a lot of trust in us. No matter how rigorous our planning or how well we train and support our volunteers there are elements of any action which are out of our control. We tackle this with a culture of ‘active curiosity’ where there are no stupid questions. Everyone is responsible for checking each other's work and flagging their concerns.
What do you want to change about your industry?
I want it to be much more diverse! I run a workshop and work with people who are in all sorts of manual trades and industries such as shipping, fishing, warehousing, drivers of heavy machinery, carpenters, metal-workers, mechanics and more. I rarely encounter women working in these fields, and when I do they usually have faced significant challenges getting to where they are.
Without more diversity, the cultures in these workplaces can be quite masculine and there can be a sense of needing to prove yourself if you are different in some way. This is a massive waste of energy and we are missing out on the creativity that different people can bring to our work. To have a more diverse workforce, not just in terms of gender but also in terms of race and ethnicity, we need more inclusive programmes which enable people to learn and practise the relevant skills. I believe that anyone can learn practical skills; you just need a safe space to practise and to stop telling yourself (and being told) that you can’t. Things are starting to change and I think we can feel hopeful that in future workshops will be full of people from all genders and backgrounds. They will be much richer for it!
What advice would you give someone who is starting out in your field?
Forgive me the indulgence of quoting one of my favourite books (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) in response to this question. When asked if fixing motorbikes is hard the protagonist replies: “Not if you have the right attitude. It’s having the right attitude that’s hard.”
I believe this rings true for all practical trades, crafts and skills. They require mastering your mind and your emotions as much as mastering the technical skill itself. Be patient, persevere and don’t be discouraged when things go wrong (this is easier said than done). Mastering practical skills is hard; that’s part of what makes it so satisfying when you finally get there. Take every opportunity that comes your way and, if none do, then create some. Reach out to people to ask them about their work - you never know the impact that a single connection made can have on your journey. Remain humble, you may think you have mastered everything there is to know about your chosen specialism only for the next project to completely confound you! Every failure or misstep is an opportunity to learn and become better. It means that you’re not starting from scratch, you’re starting from experience.