Charlotte Bowen studied history, politics and economics at school, followed by a degree and an HNC in business administration. Now her role is to make sure local communities are kept in the loop about all the work that HS2 does...
How to become an HS2 engagement adviser
Tell us about your job…
I am a Community and Stakeholder Engagement Adviser for Phase Two of the proposed High Speed Two (HS2) railway, which will connect cities across England. It’s a big project, with the first stage linking London with Birmingham, and then carrying on to reach other major cities in the North including Leeds and Manchester. And that’s actually where I come in – it’s my job to communicate with communities about what is happening.
"I see myself as a messenger. It’s great to be able to talk to people, share their thoughts with colleagues, and see potential changes in the project as a result. "
I work from home in Manchester and mainly spend time in the North West of England. I don’t really have typical working hours – in fact, I have to be quite flexible as many of the meetings I have to attend are in the evening. But it is nice not to have a commute when I work from home! My job at HS2 involves talking to people about the project and gathering ideas that can help us design the best possible railway.
My job can be quite challenging at times, as I also meet people who are not happy with the way they are affected by the project, but I really try to understand why and never take anything personally – instead, I try to talk things through with them and see if we can resolve their worries.
What are the best bits about your job?
I really enjoy getting to meet local MPs and councillors, as they are all so very different. I see myself as a messenger. To be a good messenger on a project like HS2, you need to understand the people you are working with. I really love building strong relationships with local communities and my colleagues at HS2. It’s great to be able to talk to people, share their thoughts with colleagues, and see potential changes in the project as a result.
What top three skills or qualities are important in this job?
Empathy, compassion and an understanding of local politics are so important in my job. I really care about the impact the railway will have on communities and the environment, and work hard to make sure the best possible railway is built that has the least impact on both.
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I really wanted to be a detective! My uncle was a detective and I thought that was an amazing job to do. I did apply to the police force in the West Midlands when I was 18 and got through the first stages. But then I dropped out as I was far too naïve – coming from a very small village in Wales, I was scared of the police at the train station who carried guns! I then decided I wanted to get involved in politics. My Dad was always very vocal about what he believed in and I wanted to make a difference in the world and to help people.
What subjects did you love at school?
I really loved History, Music, English and PE. I loved history because it made me think about how hard life must have been and how decisions made by kings, queens and governments over the past few centuries have shaped who we are today. I particularly loved learning about the Industrial Revolution and the miners and mill workers who had such hard lives. I was also very musical at school and was in the choir and orchestra. I still love music now, although I’m not a performer – I just like singing away to myself and going to concerts. Music gave me a lot of confidence, which I now use to present to large groups of people to talk about HS2.
How did you get into doing this as your job?
It’s a little bit of a roundabout route, but bear with me! I enjoyed doing History and Politics at A-level, plus my degree was in public policy, very connected with government, so I looked for work with local authorities. I ended up working for a number of councils and voluntary groups across the country and became really interested and involved in the regeneration of town and cities, seeing how much difference good housing can make. This led me to HS2. Just as I saw before with housing, now I see how important transport links are: without this, economies cannot thrive, and without a thriving economy, people can’t find decent employment and can often as a result suffer inequalities.
Did you have to overcome any difficulties to get where you are today?
My parents didn’t have much money, so going to university was something I had to pay for myself, with a student loan and lots of part-time jobs over the years. I did struggle financially but I think that was part of the university experience for me, scraping by, eating beans on toast, fitting in study time and assignment deadlines around long working hours.
Tell us something we didn’t know about your role. Surprise us!
I was so surprised about the number of women working in a senior role on our project. I had always assumed that a railway project would be dominated by men, but this one certainly isn’t and I think that is so much better all round!