We talk to school teacher turned plumber turned entrepreneur, Hattie Hasan, about setting up Stopcocks, the first national network for women plumbers, and her mission to change the world.
An Interview with Hattie Hasan
What made you decide to do what you do?
I was a teacher till I was 27 and then retrained as a plumber because I was fed up of being dictated to by the National Curriculum. I wanted a self-directed life. I became a plumber in 1990, employing myself because no-one would even give me an interview. By 2006 I was receiving at least one email a week from other women who wanted to become plumbers or who had trained and like me, found it impossible to get a job.
I attended an entrepreneurs’ convention that really opened up the world beyond my ‘little life’. It was the year there’d been both flood and drought in Ethiopia and terrible famine. You probably remember those images on TV. I was appalled and felt there was something I had to do.
I was unexpectedly asked to speak on stage in front of all the entrepreneurs. I was completely unprepared but I could see there was a real opportunity here. In front of the crowd, I vowed to create ‘an army of women plumbers’ who would change the way water is managed globally.
When I left the stage I was mobbed by people asking how they could help. But the thing was, I didn’t know. I didn’t know how they could help me because I didn’t know what the job was. I had just spoken from my heart about something I felt desperately needed to be done. But being who I am, I set about finding out and taking action. That set me off on a road to build a national network of women plumbers and through that make an impact on water sustainability. If I’d realised the enormity of that vision, I may never have started out on the journey!
Why did you wait until you did to do it?
It was just a question everything coming together at the right time and me being asked to speak at this big event. I started then because I was asked the question. Once the idea was in my head, combined with the knowledge of all the women who wanted to become plumbers and didn’t, the two things rubbed up against one another, bugging me to take action and change things. I felt there had to be a simple answer.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
I want to change the world!! Seriously!
I knew customers love women plumbers because the majority of customers are women and they want someone who understands their concerns. So I knew there was a customer base for these women who wanted to be plumbers. I just had to find them and bring them together in a way customers could find them. (I’m still working on this as the numbers of women in construction remains below 1% and the majority of them are hidden in traditional firms).
As for the famine in Ethiopia, I felt there had to be a simpler way to manage the water resources. We’re developing how the Stopcocks network can apply our collective knowledge in this area and last year we went to Kenya and helped create a decent rainwater harvesting system very cheaply and efficiently near Mount Kenya. That was an important step in the bigger vision for Stopcocks.
How did you make the change? What or who helped you?
They say timing is everything and the revolution in accessible technology helped massively with building the Stopcocks network. I simply couldn’t have accomplished what I’ve done without the revolution in technology making it happen. Each new thing I want to do has to wait till the tech catches up and allows us to do it.
We started before there was any kind of social media but as soon as that began we were there using it. We joined Ning and an encouraging global community of heart centred entrepreneurs quickly gathered around us.
None of the traditional ways of connecting worked for us because women in trades are in such tiny numbers and the means to connect simply didn’t exist. The usual advice of ‘going where your target market gathers and finding out what their concerns are’ just didn’t work for us. I had to begin making myself visible so that women plumbers could find me.
How did your family and friends react?
They know when I want to do something nothing can stop me, so they got out of the way!! They watched mostly because I think they saw how big the job was. No one anywhere had done anything like this before.
Some people helped me and my partner, Mica has always stood firm beside me. There are several people who’ve stood next to me all along, but I think for a lot of people I have a very overwhelming vision.
How has your life changed having gone down this path?
Everything is completely different, although I continue to live in our little weaver’s cottage in the Pennines and walk our dog every day. At the same time I continue to work towards this huge vision of a network of women plumbers changing the world. I’m making mistakes, getting things right and continuing to move towards the big goals. I don’t think my neighbours realise what I’m doing. Even though they know we go to Africa to do the water sustainability work, I don’t think they glimpse the bigger vision. But that doesn’t matter because we’re so connected and have people globally who help us work towards it. For example, an old friend in Australia is sorting out our website for us right now and someone in Italy is helping us with consultancy.
I raised £25,000 in one night for the empowerment work The Hunger Project does and went to India to visit some of the villages they’re working in. The village women I met were really inspiring; changing the futures of the girls and their whole communities through working as community leaders on local councils. I’ve been to Bali to work on our vision 3 times, done a week of comedy at the Edinburgh Fringe, been to Kenya to help create water sustainability there, I’ve mentored and supported 40 women to become competent plumbers and I also run the world’s only national company of women plumbers. We’re about to franchise that, which is going to bring big changes, because we’ve been small so far and worked like a group of friends. It’s about to become much more ‘big time’.
What advice do you have for women considering a similar life change?
Have patience, because it may take a long time. Have determination because you will encounter lots of obstacles. Have compassion for yourself when things go wrong and when they do, find the advantages of a change in direction.
Maybe the best advice is look inside yourself and make sure you really want to do it because it will turn your life upside down.
Also, although women will probably be your greatest allies, they won’t all be and some may be your fiercest detractors.
What are you proud of and what keeps you inspired?
Being able to help other women make their dreams come true is simply amazing and the best inspiration. One of our loyal plumbers says she doesn’t know what would have happened to her if she hadn’t joined us. She says she could have been ‘in the gutter’ but instead she has a thriving business, healthy children and has just got married. She is happy and content for the first time in her life.
I’m proud of helping The Hunger Project and of the work we’ve done in Kenya at the children’s home and our continuing plans.
I’m proud of how we’re the only people actually taking action to shake up the construction industry here in the UK. It really is unbelievably old fashioned. People actually seriously tell us that women won’t be able to become plumbers because they’ll cry if they break a nail! There’s still a lot to do there, but watch this space for our plans.
What do you love most about being the age you are?
I’m 54, I started as a plumber at 27 and became an entrepreneur at 44. I’ve gained so much confidence along the way. Once I’d abandoned my family’s expectations, I can’t really say I’ve been unduly concerned about what other people think of me. But there is something about being here, still standing, still making waves and changing the world just by my/our existence that I love. I love that there’s no contradiction between me running such a ground-breaking business and walking the dog in our little town park every day at 7am. It’s a very grounded place to be.
What do you hate most about being the age you are?
My back aches in a morning!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known in your twenties?
I wish I’d known it would all be alright. At twenty my life was far from alright and having someone to give me reassurance would have given me a lot of strength and comfort.
What are the most important business and/or personal lessons you’ve learnt along the way?
To trust my gut but also to ask for help and an outside perspective.
It’s an awkward balance to follow your gut instincts and also bring others in. If the vision is big you can’t do it alone, but if it’s a unique vision, other people try to push their own expectations and desires onto it. It’s good to have the right advisers and advocates.
Learning from mistakes and not beating myself (or anyone else) up for them!
Do you have a mantra that has guided you more than any other?
It’ll be alright in the end. If it’s not alright, it’s not the end!
Which woman do you most admire and why?
My mum. She’s an amazing woman who brought up five of us giving us so much love when she wasn’t getting any. She infused us all with strength and love throughout our childhood.
Is there anything people consistently misunderstand about you?
That because I’m practical, solution focused and determined, I don’t need support. I’m human and vulnerable just like anyone else.
How can Mutton Club readers find out more about what you do?
Immediately? I’m in the final 15 in a national competition for Plumber of the Year. It’s down to a public vote so if readers like what I’m doing and would like to show support, they can vote for me here (from anywhere and as often as they like!) until 14th August. The recognition that would give within the industry would be very helpful.
Please also look at our website and find out more about us there. Anyone who wants to invest can contact us there too. We’re on the brink of really taking the business bigger and the faith of outside investors will help us speed up that process.
I’ve also written a book: The Joy of Plumbing: A Guide to Living the Life You Really, Really Want.