‘We’re painting a brighter future for women’
Female decorators are a small but growing minority. Manchester friends Hannah Wood, 42, and Jane Mcgeoghan, 38, are a pioneering success story.
HANNAH SAYS ‘Recently, I popped into a bar wearing my painter’s overalls. “Still life or landscapes?” a woman asked. “I paint houses, actually,” I replied. It hadn’t even occurred to her that I could be a decorator!
It’s not the first time someone has been shocked by my line of work. I used to be an officer for Greater Manchester Police, but I get more people staring at me in my painter’s overalls than
I ever did in a police uniform.
Five years ago, I set up the business, Primer Donnas, with my friend Jane. We were colleagues on the police force, but I decided I needed a change and resigned. Meanwhile, Jane took a year out to go travelling, and never went back to the job.
Our new career started when we helped out a friend with her decorating business. We found we were both good at it, and worked so well together that we decided to set up on our own. We’re both very practical – I’ve always been good at fixing broken gadgets and wonky shelves – and being in the police makes you good at talking to all kinds of different people. We had no formal training, but learned the trade from working with others first.
After five years, no two days are the same. One day we’ll be wallpapering someone’s cosy house, on another we’ll be painting a big empty office building. Sometimes we work together and sometimes apart. When we are on a job together, we tend to spend our days working with Radio 4 in the background, debating the big issues of the day.
GOING THE EXTRA MILE
I was a bit worried that my mum would be disappointed that I was leaving the police, but she’s been great. She even comes and helps us sometimes! It’s still a man’s world, and in the beginning we made ourselves go above and beyond for people because we felt we had to be better than men doing the same job. In fact, we still go that extra mile – it’s part of the service!
Painting and decorating is a great job, and there’s no reason why a woman can’t do it just as well as a man. You can work your own hours, talk to different people, enjoy being creative and not be tied to an office. We love what we do!’
JANE SAYS ‘Decorating came along at the right time. I’d come out of a long-term relationship, taken a career break from my job as a crime scene investigator, and was at a bit of a crossroads. I was ready for something new and this was a welcome leap into the unknown.
I don’t think either of us would have had the guts to take such a big step on our own. From finding new customers to stocking up at the trade shop – which is full of men – Hannah and I were able to build up our confidence together.
We know of a few women working in similar trades, but there’s hardly a crowd of us. In fact, at a recent networking event organised by the charity Women On The Tools, I was the only one who turned up! There’s still a long way to go, as women apparently only make up around 1% of skilled workers in manual trades.
But while many of our customers are women who feel happier having us around, we wouldn’t keep getting work if we weren’t good at what we do.’
Hannah (left) and Jane set up Primer Donnas five years ago