Skip to content
Search
Lara Lightfoot

Lara Lightfoot

Project Agent, Story Contracting

Expertise

Project management, Construction, Rail, Project Management

Location

United Kingdom
Career highlights

ICE Future Leader 2021/22

Young Rail Professional of the Year 2021 (Young Rail Professionals)

Seeing my first site at Hessle foreshore, Hull, win numerous awards

A day in my life

Working as a contractor on the railway, there isn’t really a standard day! I have a good balance between taking a hands-on role on site, attending meetings, and planning future jobs from the office.

In rail, we’ll also work occasional night shifts, as it’s the only time we can safely get on track.

I’m lucky that the railway offers a huge variety of projects, too. Not only have I worked on exciting new infrastructure, but I’m also lucky enough to work all around the country and see some incredible scenery and meet amazing people.

I’m a natural early riser, so I get up at around 5am for some free time before getting to work for 7am. Due to our flexible working hours, this means I’m able to get home early, giving me plenty of time to study for my master’s degree, socialise with friends, or practice with my tag rugby team.

What are you doing at the moment?

I work in the railway division of the infrastructure company Story Contracting. I am also studying for my master’s in International Construction Management and Engineering part-time.

The most complex thing I’ve made out of Lego

I don’t really remember playing with Lego much, but my parents tell me I used to love building fire stations and miniature towns out of Playmobil and roller coasters out of K’Nex.

What’s one great thing that you love about civil engineering that you didn’t know until you started working in the industry?

I didn’t realise how much of a difference I can make in each civil engineering project, most notably in reducing embodied carbon and increasing sustainability and social value. I always make sure that we are improving the environment and communities surrounding our sites.

Which individual project or person inspired you to become a civil engineer?

My grandpa – from as long as I can remember, he would always point out interesting buildings, asking when I thought it was built, how it was constructed, and why it was built that way. He gave me a huge passion for understanding the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of everyday structures, objects, and things that may normally go unnoticed. Now I catch myself constantly asking my friends the same questions!

Complete this phrase: I’m a civil engineer, but I’m also…

A proud advocate for women in STEM, a keen (but not very good) tag rugby player, and dead into houseplants – I think I had over 60 the last time I checked.

What about being a civil engineer gets you out of bed each morning?

Knowing that, even in such a junior role, I am able to make a difference, and change the world and the environment around me. I also volunteer at as many STEM events in schools near to our sites as possible, to inspire the future generation of civil engineers.

Which civil engineering project (past or present) do you wish you’d worked on?

I really adore Habitat 67 in Montreal – despite the huge embodied carbon (carbon emissions produced in the construction) in such a massive, concrete structure, I absolutely love the non-traditional brutalist architecture, and would have loved to be in the construction or planning team for it… I expect it was probably a consultant’s nightmare calculating all the cantilevers in it though!

Has civil engineering helped you overcome any personal hurdles/difficulties?

Although I am able-bodied myself, I really push to ensure all of our works are designed to be accessible to all people, in every way possible. This is particularly important on the railway, as I believe it is our duty as engineers to build better infrastructure and travel opportunities for people with disabilities.

I’m lucky to have a fantastic team who have been nothing but supportive and encouraging for the first few years of my career – when I’ve encountered personal difficulties they have always given me the time, space, and flexibility to work through these. Civil engineering isn’t possible without the joint efforts of a successful team, so I think it is important to remember that we are all people, with personal lives, emotions, and feelings.

Work training/education and career

I studied maths, chemistry, physics and art A-Levels, and then did a BEng degree in architectural engineering at the University of Sheffield. I’m currently studying for my part-time master’s degree in International Construction Management at the University of Leeds, to accelerate my route to chartership through the ICE.

I’d recommend a career in civil engineering because...

There’s never a boring day, and it’s one of the careers where you can genuinely make a positive lasting legacy and impact on the world.

Name one civil engineering myth you’d like to bust.

Working in civil engineering, construction, or the railway isn’t suitable for women. I’m still often met with shock when I tell people I’m an engineer, or that I work in construction! I try and show people that, although construction and the railway sector is still male-dominated, this is changing. I argue that women should be even more warmly welcomed in the industry since they often excel when given the opportunity.

Anything else?

Having lost my best friend and housemate to suicide in 2019, I’m a huge advocate for openness, visibility, and accessibility to mental health services, particularly in the construction industry.

I gained my Mental Health First Aider certificate last year, and hold toolbox talks on our sites to encourage people to talk about their feelings. I also raised over £2,000 by doing a charity skydive for Mind.