Shaunagh Brown, 23, is a British Gas service and repair engineer. She lives in Gillingham, Kent, with her mother, Lesley
"Everyone still expects to see the gas man at the door. People are sometimes visibly surprised when I turn up, but I don’t mind; I’m just as capable as any of the men I work with. Some female customers even say they prefer a woman engineer, as they feel more comfortable if they’re still in their pyjamas when I arrive. And while men occasionally take longer to warm to me – and some even stand over me as I work – I always get them onside when they see I know exactly what I’m doing.
My alarm goes off at 6.30am and I’ll eat a bowl of porridge while logging in to our company system on my laptop. Our call centre arranges up to 10 visits for me each day, covering three postcodes around Gillingham.
I’m one of 12,000 British Gas engineers who visit customers to perform an annual service check on their boiler. It’s a great career for women because after a one-year apprenticeship, you’re guaranteed a job and you can fit it around other commitments. For me, that’s sport – I throw the hammer and shot put. I work from Monday to Wednesday then I spend three days training in Loughborough. Last year I won gold and silver at the British Championships and my goal is to make the Commonwealth Games this year. I’m going to California soon to train with my coach.
After breakfast, I change into my navy blue uniform: a polo shirt and cargo trousers with foam kneepads for when I’m climbing in dusty lofts, plus steel toecap boots. I’m such a tomboy, I don’t bother with make-up. I load my VW Caddy Maxi van with my heavy tools – I’m grateful for having strong arms – and head to my first job at 8am. I listen to LBC radio for company; I like getting involved with their current affairs debates in my head.
I visit people from all walks of life and see inside some unusual houses. I was fascinated by one which backed on to a marina where the customer had his own yacht. And I recently visited one woman with a shoe obsession – she had literally hundreds of pairs all over the place. People open the door in a towel more often than you’d think and many don’t know where their boiler actually is – most take me to the cylinder in the airing cupboard, which is the hot-water tank.
I’ve had some near-misses but thankfully no explosions
The most difficult jobs are when the boiler is under the sink, so I have to contort my body to do my checks. I remove the boiler case, ensure the seals are in good condition and the flue [the opening that directs exhaust gases outside] is expelling the waste properly. I’ve had a couple of near-misses where I could smell gas and confirmed a leak, but thankfully no explosions. It’s nice to know that I make people feel safe in their homes.
The work is quite repetitive so talking to customers keeps each job interesting. I usually open with ‘Have you lived here long?’ and some people give you their life story. One woman recently told me all about her divorce and her son’s girlfriend, who she didn’t approve of. The gossip certainly keeps things interesting.
I get offered endless cups of tea so I curb it to two per day. Some of my elderly customers will even make me lunch. I feel touched that I might be their only visitor that week; I spent one lunchtime listening to a lady’s wartime stories. Usually, though, I’ll go home for eggs and beans on toast, which is high in protein.
I continue with my jobs in the afternoon. We give customers two-hour timeslots, phone ahead, and even have an app showing when we’re on our way. I finish at 5pm then I head to the athletics track in Kidbrooke or the gym in south London where I train after work. I often have competitions on my day off, so my social life suffers. But my friends know that I’m chasing my dream.
I’m rarely home for dinner so my mum leaves out something like curry goat and rice; a recipe she picked up from my dad, who is Jamaican. I’ll go to bed at 11pm and watch Family Guy before falling asleep.”