Meet the team: Heather Hale
Heather heads up a team of about 175 engineers for our technical organisation within EDF. She’s been with the project since 2011, and EDF (then British Energy) since 2002. “I’m the sort of person who thrives off having something new to get my head around each week,” she says. And that’s certainly the case at Hinkley Point C.
Read time: 5 mins
What’s been your journey to Hinkley Point C?
A. I was living in St Albans and looking for jobs after graduating when I saw an advert come up for a role at Dungeness power station. I was really excited about the prospect of working at a nuclear power station and doing a role that was actively helping to decarbonise the UK’s power supply.
I learnt a huge amount during the 10 years I worked at Dungeness before going to work in New Nuclear Build at EDF, as their radiation protection lead.
Shortly after this, I moved to Paris where I worked with the engineering designers at EDF Group. It was really fun: I improved my French and learned more about the wider context of Group. It was also hugely important in developing my expertise in building teams – with people from different cultural backgrounds – that work together to solve design problems.
What’s your role now?
A. When I returned to the UK, it was to lead and develop a team of civil engineers at Hinkley Point C. The team was based in Bristol so I moved to the South West. As the role developed, I moved from managing not just civil engineers, but engineers from all other disciplines on and off site .
What does your team do?
A. We’re the back-office people: our work takes place behind the scenes, but makes it possible for the project to get built, whether it’s assessment calculations or supporting the design of the reactor and its support systems.
Sometimes one of my engineering team will return from a visit on site and it’s like they’ve been on holiday, they’re so keen to show me photos of a piece of equipment they designed on paper! They’re proud to see it finally become real – and that’s really satisfying.
I’m also really enjoying the opportunity to do something more strategic and longer term. What we’re doing at Hinkley Point C with our technical team is creating the cornerstone of technical resource to support the nuclear industry in the future. It’s very exciting – so long as you like working with longer timeframes!
What attracted you to work at Hinkley Point C?
A. I come from an operating background; so initially, it was the chance to work on a new build and get things right from the beginning. To be part of a new and exciting project, and set things up differently. But what’s kept me here since is the challenge of the day-to-day work.
I’m the sort of person who thrives off having something new to get my head around each week. I couldn’t cope with doing the same job day in, day out. My team and I have also been involved in doing things that have never happened in the UK before – maybe, even, the world! That’s really exciting. And to see the team’s enthusiasm and passion, despite it being really hard work, is really motivating.
How does your operational experience help with working in new nuclear?
A. I know what the reality is like of working on a nuclear power station – that it’s hard work to clean some of the components on a power station, for instance. So when we’re thinking now about what kind of paint surface we want for the inside of the reactor building, I know we want a paint that’s easy to clean or which doesn’t attract as much dirt.
Similarly, I encourage my team to consider if it’s worth putting in the work now to make things better for the operators of the power station in the future. So they don’t to carry out extra checks or regular duties that could have been avoided. Through the work we do today, we get to shape how the plant will work when it’s operational.
Did you have to relocate to the South West?
A. I moved to Clevedon, when I came back from Paris, as my team were based in Bristol. I love it here, it’s beautiful. I was totally blessed in lockdown, as we can walk everywhere, be it the beach or shops. I’m also only a two-minute drive from the M5 so I can get to all our project locations fairly quickly.
What’s the workplace like?
A. What you get in the office – and we don’t need to be in the office every day – is access to a really good network. You’ll find people working here on all sorts of topics related to the project. And this makes it easier to solve a problem you’re working on because there will be someone here who might have part of the answer you need. Or, if they don’t, they’ll be able to introduce you to someone who does. That kind of networking is invaluable and isn’t easy to access remotely.
What’s important to you in the workplace?
A. The physical location of where I work is less important to me than who I work with. I like working with people who are passionate, engaged and driven by a common purpose.
I enjoyed the French working environment but it was completely different to here. In the UK, you’ll talk about what you’re working on, but we’ll also have really interesting and engaging conversations about life outside work too. There’s a lot of laughter here and I’ve made some really good friends during my time at EDF.
Is Hinkley Point C a diverse and inclusive place to work?
A. It’s definitely inclusive here and we have a culturally diverse workforce. But we’re not there yet with gender diversity. There are some great female role models in the commercial, financial and legal teams – and we have made progress generally – but we need more females in the technical and engineering arena, particularly at a senior level.
Gender diversity is much better in France as it’s really prestigious to be an engineer in Europe. It’s known for being a well-paid and respected career, so it attracts more women into the profession.
What do you like most about your job?
A. I get the most satisfaction when I’m able to help one of my team unlock a challenge that they’ve been working on for a long time. It’s really satisfying when you see them realise a solution. Or when they present their work to the board and you watch them fly. Helping to develop people is the most rewarding part of my job.
How will Hinkley Point C help with your career progression?
A. My experience at Hinkley Point C is invaluable because of the size of the project. I’ll never get the opportunity to work on something this big ever again. It’s iconic too – everyone knows Hinkley Point C.
There are also a lot of opportunities available within the project, so you’re constantly developing new skills. I’ve learnt how to manage multiple stakeholders, for instance. I also didn't really understand the commercial aspects of the project before, but I’ve been able to broaden my knowledge – and these possibilities are available to everyone on the project.
Have you thought about next steps?
A. I do really love operations and the buzz of being close to the day-to-day action. So I’d consider a more operational senior leadership role in the future. Or maybe returning to France... I’ll consider any option so long as the work’s challenging and it interests me.