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Offshore wind environment manager Emma inspires with Top 50 Women in Engineering title

GEOGRAPHY, not science, has propelled Grimsby woman Emma Browning to the forefront of engineering, and she wants to see more town schoolgirls follow her lead.

Offshore wind environment manager Emma inspires with Top 50 Women in Engineering title

The weekend saw the offshore wind farm environment manager named in the top 50 women in the industry, but despite Grimsby’s emergence to lead the UK in the past decade, she isn’t operating out of her home town – as yet! 

Now, working for Scottish Power Renewables on East Anglia One off the Suffolk coast, she reflects with a smile on the fact that the closest she came to the docks on a daily basis was the view of The Riverhead from Imperial House.

Before career two came calling she spent the first 12 years of her working life with HM Revenue and Customs in Grimsby town centre. 

“As an environment manager working with Scottish Power Renewables’ new £2.5 billion offshore wind farm, I lead a team on one of the UK’s biggest and most exciting engineering projects – but my route into the sector has hardly been traditional,” she had told the Sunday Telegraph for a high-profile supplement that revealed engineering’s exemplars, with a focus on returning or transferring candidates for 2018.

Her career path took her up to Glasgow and then to London – via Kenya and Sheffield – now with frequent visits to Ipswich and back home thrown in.

And it was two interests exposed to during her time at Whitgift School – teaching then geography – that led to a career change as she approached 30, having gone from personal assistant in the VAT office to specialist criminal investigator.

“It was a dual thing. My parents were always keen for me to appreciate the environment,” she said. “A lot of holidays were spent in the UK, walking, I never went abroad until I was 17. 

“It gave me an appreciation for nature, understanding why things are the way they are. That made me naturally eager at geography.”

She took it as a GCSE option, but had to further it herself later in her career to open up the new path.

“I didn’t do anything with geography, I did business studies at college, but before I changed direction I taught myself A-level geography to get in to university. 

“Looking back it was one of the most engaging classes I had at school.” 

It has clearly been East Anglia One’s benefit, as the top ranking bachelor of science degree was added to the CV. But first, before university, and that first in physical geography, came a four-month sabbatical to Kenya to teach English, fulfilling a “schoolgirl ambition” to take on the role at the front of the class, where she is pictured, here.   

Graduating in 2011, environmental management came calling. She headed to Glasgow, joining SP Energy Networks, before entering an industry that has also made Grimsby its home. 

She said: “It seems bizarre me not working there now because it is all coming out of Grimsby, so maybe one day, who knows! I am working on the east coast, in the North Sea, just further south. Hopefully this will inspire other people to think about it.

“As much as the recognition is nice, the idea behind it was to inspire other people who may think ‘it is not for me’ that it can be if they are interested. You don’t have to be an engineer to work in engineering either, as working on a wind farm like I do shows. That’s the hope behind it, to promote diversity.

“We have all been given a set of circumstances in life, then there’s the layer of opportunity too. I think people growing up in Grimsby now should be quite excited about what is happening in the town and nearby, and should grab the opportunities with both hands. It is bringing a lot of interest into the town, and a lot of contractors. People from oil and gas have a lot of transferable skills,  it may be they have never thought about it before. They may have let their tickets expire, but hopefully they can get them reissued and there is great opportunity there.”

As reported, more than 1,000 direct jobs are being created in the industry in Grimsby alone, with Orsted the single biggest investor bringing 500 to a £10 million East Coast Hub on Royal Dock. 

Emma recognises Siemens' role in Hull too, and further potential beyond the known rounds of development. 

So what is her role, which has seen praise pour down from the chief executive of the company, having had to keep quiet for a three-week lead up to Saturday’s special day and yesterday’s publication.

“My responsibility is for environmental management of East Anglia One. That’s a project with 37km of onshore cabling, an onshore substation, 87km of offshore cable to an offshore substation, then 102 turbines connecting to that substation. I have to make sure we comply with environmental legislation, with the consent conditions put in place by the local authorities and with marine policies.”

Construction is in full-flow now, with completion anticipated for 2020. It will be served out of Lowestoft, with power connecting to the National Grid near Ipswich.

“There is also responsibility for us preparing to go operational, and when you look at what environmental requirements are needed, that is looking a good 20-plus years ahead,” she said. “We have a team of environmental advisers working offshore and onshore, doing inspections, it is a huge remit, and environmental risk can be very different onshore and offshore, but also very similar. 

“We don’t want oil spillages or plant equipment leaking, then when it comes to wildlife it can be harbour porpoises – making sure we protect them – down to onshore, and the usual suspects of badgers and water voles, which are really prevalent. 

“Then there are air quality, emissions and noise concerns, stakeholder management – all key things we get involved in. It is pretty diverse, every day is different, every day is a school day, and I can work with a lot of different people, so it can be manic.”

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