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EPISODE #23

The aspiring architect and the power of the Welsh connection

Felicity Pettit
  • Raised in west Wales
  • Hong Kong & St David's
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This story started quite a few years ago now: I was working for a small boutique hotel in my hometown of Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire in West Wales. I had been employed there in the Food and Beverage Department, assisting in the restaurants with guests and other events such as weddings, etc. I learnt a great deal about good quality service from this work whilst developing other skills that I still use today in everyday life. However, after some time unfortunately the overall management went downhill and led to me to leave the job, alongside starting university.

I had planned to return in the holidays and work over Christmas, which I did that year. During the Christmas period after I had finished working, I spoke to one of my old colleagues. She had recently moved to a new boutique hotel about 10 miles from where I was living. At the same time, I saw an advert on Facebook for job vacancies at Twr Y Felin Hotel in St Davids, the smallest city in Great Britain. She said that I should apply knowing that I had good experience in this sector and that I would enjoy the role.

I went for an interview on the 1st of January that winter and, on returning to University in the following weeks, I received news that I would be able to come back during the Easter Holidays and work for the hotel. This was amazing news and enabled me to finance myself whilst I was at University. Following on from that I spent both Easter and summer holidays working at Twr Y Felin Hotel.

"Becoming an architect has been a dream of mine since I was small, maybe about 9 years old... Seeing the development in the Doha skyline was one inspirational factor that encouraged me to pursue this route of architecture."

During the September 2015 before I started working at Twr Y Felin Hotel, I started studying architecture at the University of Manchester. Becoming an architect has been a dream of mine since I was small, maybe about 9 years old. Around this time, we would visit my father who worked in Qatar in the Middle East, seeing such incredible infrastructure from such a young age when I hadn’t really experienced anything quite like it before, was truly amazing. Seeing the development in the Doha skyline was one inspirational factor that encouraged me to pursue this route of architecture.

An aspect that intrigued me about working at Twr Y Felin was the fact that Keith Griffiths of Aedas, a world-renowned architect, was the owner (in addition to the Pembrokeshire hotels Roch Castle and Penrhiw). I had known about Keith for a while at that point and I can remember driving down to Newgale beach near St Davids when I was been younger talking about the unbelievable notion of actually working for him one day – more on that later.

I thoroughly enjoyed working for the Retreats Group across all three of the hotels from time to time, and learned a great deal especially from the General Manager Paula Ellis, along with other members of the team, who I grew close to, and developed great friendships.

One of the most interesting aspects of working at Twr Y Felin Hotel was the continuation and ongoing work that was still being undertaken by a local architecture practice. This architecture practice, Acanthus Holden, would occasionally carry out certain maintenance aspects and reviews of the building. I was lucky enough to be introduced to one of the members of the company and this led to a week’s work experience at the company’s local office in Pembroke where I was able to shadow the architects prior to heading back to university for my second year that September 2016.

"I sent an email directly to Keith Griffiths at Aedas asking if they had any availability for a summer intern the following summer. Much to my disbelief he offered me the opportunity to work as an intern over the summer holidays at an Aedas office of my choice in the Far East."

After working and shadowing at Acanthus Holden for the week, I asked one of the architects there whether it was worthwhile approaching Aedas for a possible internship during the summer holidays the following year 2017 between my 2nd and 3rd years at university. I was told that at the end of the day I had nothing to lose and the only thing bad that could come out of the situation was that there was no availability or that they weren't taking on interns at that time.

This was an amazing opportunity to even experience and I thought it was something that I had to try even if I was not successful. I sent an email directly to Keith Griffiths at Aedas asking if they had any availability for a summer intern the following summer. I was so surprised with the response and the speed of it: this was extremely exciting for me and just the general care and attention that was given even though Keith had never met me before was highly impressive. Much to my disbelief he offered me the opportunity to work as an intern over the summer holidays at an Aedas office of my choice in the Far East.

"Hong Kong was so different from anything I had ever seen before: the intensity, the number of people, the heat, all of these aspects were insane even more so being on your own and experiencing them by yourself whilst jetlagged."

I opted for Hong Kong and in the 1st week of July 2017 and I worked in the office at Aedas for five weeks working under some of the architects there and assisting on some live projects which was something that I had never done up until that point.

This was such an amazing experience and baffling turn of events. I flew to Hong Kong on my own at the age of nineteen, the first journey that I had done by myself with no family members or friends with me. I do not remember being overly nervous before I left, but I probably was. I didn't really think about being scared or anxious at the time when I first arrived in Hong Kong. I took the train into the city by myself, I found a place to get a SIM card so that I could text or call home to let them know that I'd arrived and I took the MTR (metro-train) to my accommodation.

Hong Kong was so different from anything I had ever seen before:  the intensity, the number of people, the heat, all of these aspects were insane even more so being on your own and experiencing them by yourself whilst jetlagged.

I can remember when I first arrived I thought it made the most gigantic mistake. I was extremely nervous and worried, especially being there on my own it did take a good few days to settle in. Starting in the office made a massive difference because I was seeing people every day. I was not on my own and I had the chance to make friends and meet new people and do things with them.

When I was in Hong Kong for the internship, I remember feeling as though the time was going by quite slowly. I think possibly because I was new to the area and I didn't really know what to do. I did make the most of the weekends, however, and I did all the touristy things that you do, and I was lucky enough to experience a great deal of the culture as well.

The trip was something completely different to what I'd ever done before and it was definitely something that I would never in a million years regret doing, looking back on it now.

I am completely grateful for the opportunity that I was given to experience this form of work and lifestyle.

Following on from the work in the Aedas office in Hong Kong, I made the decision to extend the trip and experience a little more of the culture of the Far East. This involved heading to China for two weeks and undertaking a trip starting in Beijing and heading to Xi’an, Suzhou and Shanghai where the trip finished. This was another amazing opportunity which I doubt I would have experienced if not for working in Hong Kong in the first place.

After leaving the summer internship I was offered the opportunity, should I wish to do so, to come back to Hong Kong for my year in industry which is something that you have to carry out to complete an architecture degree. This was once again an incredible opportunity and something that I could never have originally expected in my wildest dreams.

I was still a little nervous about accepting the offer mainly because it was going to be such a big change from the lifestyle that I was used to and the fact that I was going to be away from friends and family for such a long period. Obviously, I was able to have people to come and visit me and spend time with me, but it was still such a big decision.

After much deliberation, I concluded that I would be crazy to not accept this offer. Therefore, during my final undergraduate year at University (my third year) I accepted the offer to work in Hong Kong at Aedas for one year.

The process of getting everything organised, my visa, all of my documentation started fairly early on in the year so it was something that I had to be certain I wanted to do from a fairly early stage.

"It was such a lovely encounter we embraced and chatted about the fact I had arrived and was ready to start the following Monday, it was just so lovely to know that he really cared."

It was genuinely nice and reassuring to know that I was going straight into work after graduating. I know many people don't have the opportunity and it can be quite a nerve racking and worrying time. Once I had graduated, I spent a small amount of time at home, making the most of the time with family and friends before heading out to Hong Kong.

I started my year out in Hong Kong in the 1st week of September in 2018. I travelled to Hong Kong with my mother and my father joined us from Oman where he was working at the time. It was amazing to take them to Hong Kong already knowing about the city and showing them the sights, not that we had all that much time as I was starting work within a few days of us arriving.

One thing I will always remember was that on the Friday we went into the office for me to pick up my visa documents for work. We were in the reception area waiting for the HR member of staff to come back to us with the paperwork and Keith happened to walk into the reception area. It was such a lovely encounter we embraced and chatted about the fact I had arrived and was ready to start the following Monday, it was just so lovely to know that he really cared.

I think it's quite an unusual thing to have that when you've come all the way from Pembrokeshire. You don't think that when you travel halfway around the world that someone really cares that you've done that especially when it doesn't matter all that much to them at the end of the day. He was the one that offered me the work and I'm the one that's grateful and glad to be there.

I worked on many projects whilst I spent my year in Hong Kong. I worked on a hotel project in Wan Chai for Accor group: this was my main project, it was a challenge but I got to experience first-hand client meetings and material specifications, building regulations in Hong Kong and dealing with building departments and sending drawings out to tender.

Another project I worked on was a Galaxy project in Macau that was a great deal more intense as it was a competition and therefore the level of expectation was much higher when you are bidding for a project.

I also worked on the Terminal 2 expansion at Hong Kong International Airport. This was something I had done previously when I was there for the five weeks in 2017 and so it was actually quite nice to continue doing the same project that I'd worked on previously just to get back into something that I was more familiar with.

The final project I very briefly touched upon was a Bank of China development: a new building was being built in Wan Chai. I didn't work particularly extensively on this project, but it was interesting to have a look and see what other members of my team were doing to develop it.

"I shall be forever grateful for this wonderful experience and the opportunity that I was given. It will be one of my fondest memories for the rest of my life."

The overall experience of working in Hong Kong was something I can't imagine would be the same anywhere else in the world. The lifestyle, the food, the pace of life, the transport and the landscape, everything is just so wildly different from anywhere else I had ever been. There is such a contrast between the massive city landscape and the not too distant mountains and beaches. Hong Kong gives you all aspects of the landscape that you could possibly be interested in exploring.

The time in Hong Kong enabled me to explore other parts of Asia with friends and family that visited whilst I was there which really enriched the overall experience, from both the work and cultural aspects.

I shall be forever grateful for this wonderful experience and the opportunity that I was given. It will be one of my fondest memories for the rest of my life.

Felicity is a Pathfinder member, currently studying a masters in architecture in Manchester. 

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