The Women Building The Factory

Even before the building is complete, The Factory has created numerous jobs, in construction, architecture, management, design, health and safety, technical and many other fields.

We caught up with some of the women currently working on The Factory, who told us about about their role in bringing The Factory vision to life.

Attracting up to 850,000 visitors, The Factory will add £1.1 billion to the economy and create 1,500 jobs. Its pioneering programme of skills, training and engagement will benefit local people and the next generation of creative talent from across the city, whilst apprenticeships and trainee schemes are already underway during the construction phase.

Nicola Irons – Principal Planner, Laing O’Rourke

I am originally from Middleton, I lived in Manchester City Centre for 10 years and have recently moved to Heaton Moor in Stockport.

I am looking after the groundworks and concrete works, steelwork, precast roofing and precast cladding ensuring it is all ready to come to site on time and deliver the programme.

I went to university at Salford as a sponsored student with Laing O’Rourke. I did 6 months at university and 6 months at work. I started on my placement in planning as a trainee and have worked my way up to principal planner.

I am huge fan of MIF and have been to so many of their events over the years so it’s really exciting for me to be a part of building their new venue. Nicola Irons – Principal Planner, Laing O’Rourke

When I first started work at 19 there weren’t as many females working in Laing O’Rourke, however I have always had a positive experience. I have always been respected and given opportunities at Laing O’Rourke, no different from my male colleagues. I was put forward and have completed one of the company’s Leadership Programmes and I am now the only female Principal Planner in the UK for Laing O’Rourke. I think Laing O’Rourke is a forward-thinking business and is really tuned into the benefit of diversity in the workforce which is actively promoted.

I am huge fan of MIF and have been to so many of their events over the years so it’s really exciting for me to be a part of building their new venue. The project is complex so there is no time to ever get bored! Everyday has a different challenge to get stuck into and we have a great team.

MIF events are so creative and inspiring and I’m really excited to see everyone coming together to enjoy them. I’m really interested to see who will be the first performer in The Factory! I can’t wait to come and use the venue!

Gergana Staykova – Digital Engineer, Laing O’Rourke

My main responsibilities are identifying opportunities to deliver the project more efficiently by leveraging digital tools, technologies and processes, putting the right steps in place to implement them and then training people in their use.

I graduated with a BSc in Architectural Technology and Construction Management in Denmark but am from Bulgaria originally. I completed a MSc in BIM and Integrated Design after moving to the UK and secured a place on Laing O’Rourke’s Graduate Development Programme and joined their Digital Engineering team.

My day starts with a refreshing walk to The Factory site in the morning.  My day-to day activities could include anything from preparing for meetings and presentations and writing reports, to tasks like 3D modelling, model audits, and software troubleshooting. With The Factory being so centrally located, at lunch I normally go out for a walk or to run some errands.

I feel proud to be part of a project team entrusted to deliver one of the most iconic arts and culture buildings in the whole of the UK. Gergana Staykova - Digital Engineer, Laing O'Rourke

Carol Patterson – Project Director, OMA

(c) Ming de Nasty

My name is Carol Patterson, and I’m originally from Los Angeles, California.

I work with OMA, the architect of The Factory, as the project director and deal with the day to day management of the teams. My role is the interface between the client, the design team and the contractor. I’m kind of the ‘middle-man’ for everything.

I joined OMA in 2000. What’s great about my job is that I work on projects from the very beginning concepts, all the way through to the end. The kind of demands of the role change through the different stages. In the design stages, it’s very much about keeping and maintaining the concept and working through the details. And then when you get to the actual building of it, it’s much more about dealing with technical day to day complexities of construction – all the while making sure that the end result is what we dreamed of at the very beginning.

I think typically, when you start a project as a woman, there's more scepticism, especially from the contracting side because it's so male dominated. Carol Patterson - Project Director, OMA

There seems to be an automatic bias that you’re not going to be as experienced or knowledgeable as a man but that quickly changes as soon as you actually start meeting people and going through things.

Architecture and design involves a lot of problem solving and so when it’s finished, it’s sort of problem solved! Sometimes it’s really technical, and sometimes it’s political, and sometimes it’s to do with design – but I always have to think creatively to solve problems.

I’m really looking forward to seeing The Factory in use, and seeing the dream realised – a building that is ‘beyond the imagination.’

Christine Cort – Managing Director, MIF & The Factory

I’m Blackburn born and bred. I spent 20 years working in London and have worked in cities all over the world.

The areas of The Factory I’ve been looking into are the food and drink offer, the visitor welcome, and the experience in the public spaces including the public squares.

My role involves overseeing the communications team including press and marketing, fundraising team, guest relationships; how guests are received and what their experience is, as well as Audience Development.

Being able to help create a piece of history up here that will genuinely transform some young people’s lives, that is the thing that probably thrills me most Christine Cort - Managing Director of MIF and The Factory

I always wanted to do something creative when I was growing up, not even knowing what that properly meant! I’ve had the really good fortune of working at some incredible places, like Riverside Studios, the Design Museum, and Time Out. The route into my job here at MIF was through building relationships with people. I love human beings, it might sound a daft thing to say but it is actually true.

When I grew up as a working-class girl in Blackburn, it was inconceivable for me to be able to stay around the North and plough the sort of creative journey I was so yearning for, I had to go to London. So for me being able to help create a piece of history up here that will genuinely transform some young people’s lives to enable them to be part of it, that is the thing that probably thrills me most.

Emma King – Capital Director, The Factory

Emma King speaking to students with posters of The Factory and past MIF events behind her

My name is Emma King. I am an ex-Londoner who has made a home in the North West on and off since the 1990s.

I work between Manchester City Council who are building The Factory and Manchester International Festival who will operate the building. I have a broad role that can range from dealing with the national funding partners to being involved in the day to day technical design and construction matters.

I qualified as an architect about 30 years ago. In the early part of my career I worked on all manner of public and private projects in the UK and internationally. It was during my time working with the developer Urban Splash that I came to understand that I was most suited to or most interested in the work that went into shaping a project rather than delivering the detailed design. The Factory is the largest and most engaging project I have been involved in.

I work with teams of experts – architects, constructors, engineers, end users, stakeholders –discussing technical issues and helping to move things forward and making sure that we always consider the wider impacts and overall goal of what we are all working so hard to achieve.

I spend a fair proportion of my time talking about The Factory and what is happening on site to lots of different people – recently this has included Government Ministers, National and International visitors to Manchester, community groups, prospective artists and partners, groups of young people and friends of Manchester International Festival.

When I was starting out I was more of a rarity as a woman in a male dominated industry and that was certainly challenging at times. I can remember in my 20s thinking ‘I have arrived’ when I was working on a site and they finally installed a ‘female’ toilet. Emma King - Capital Director for The Factory

The construction industry has changed significantly over my career and become more progressive and more balanced. I am quite a robust character and always up for challenging behaviour that is not appropriate, wherever I find it. I firmly believe that balanced and diverse teams are more effective and it falls to people like me to set the right tone and help get the best from the expertise around the table.

Constructing a building is a fascinating process. I particularly enjoy looking at the site as I come to work or go home on the train. It is the only time in my day when I can really sit back and reflect for a couple of minutes, without interruption, on the scale of what we are achieving.

In a job like mine, finishing a project is always a bitter sweet moment. Of course, I am tremendously excited to see The Factory in action, to hear what people think about the performances and the experience of using the building. It will also be a time when the very talented project team will disperse after so many years of intensive work, so I am really looking forward to having a small celebration with them in the midst of a busy and successful venue that we have built together.

Corrine Comeley – Health and Safety Manager, Laing O’Rourke

I was born in Hackney, East London and I now live in Crouch End in North London. I currently work 5 days in Manchester and commute home each weekend to London.

I have been an air stewardess for British Airways, and have worked for Canary Wharf Contractors (CWC) as the H&S team administrator.

Working in Health and Safety can be quite challenging, advising a highly competent and skilled workforce how to to adhere to site rules or change their behaviour. But as a female, the teams in this workforce, which are largely male, seem to listen to me without it becoming confrontational which I have witnessed previously.

The most rewarding thing about working on The Factory is overcoming the challenges of the design and build. I’m looking forward to using the public spaces once it is complete.

Jenni Harris – Deputy London Studio Principal, Charcoalblue


Charcoalblue is a multidisciplinary theatre consultancy firm, offering theatre planning, technical systems design, acoustic design and turnkey services.  I’ve worked for the company for 7 years now, initially as a stagelighting consultant and then moving on to lead and deliver projects as a senior consultant for the company.

We are working with Manchester International Festival and Office for Metropolitan Architecture on the design of the performance spaces utilising virtual reality to visualise the spaces & assist with the sightline analysis. All the technical systems are designed to be as flexible as possible to allow the users to create work with as few technical restrictions as possible.

Initially I completed a BA (Hons) in Drama followed by a Master’s degree in Performance Theory, before going back and retraining in Professional Production Skills at Guildford School of Acting.

It’s not uncommon to be the only female voice at the table, so I must make it count! Jenni Harris, Deputy London Studio Principal, Charcoalblue

I was touring as a technical manager and re-lighter when I was first contacted by Charcoalblue about a potential opening. Theatre consultancy is so varied, no two days are the same – one minute I can be designing a small-scale system for a school on a tiny, tiny budget and the next I’m getting on a plane to spend a week with a bunch of experienced theatre technicians on the other side of the world at the Sydney Theatre Company.

Having arrived in the construction industry from the world of theatre I realised very early on that there are many similarities between the two cultures, the most obvious being the male-centric professions with which we collaborate – architecture, structures, mechanical & electrical design, and of course, the construction profession itself.  Having experienced many years of male dominance in technical theatre this didn’t come as something new to me, and if anything, gave me a better starting point entering the new world of design and construction.  It’s not uncommon to be the only female voice at the table, so I must make it count!  Charcoalblue are a fabulously diverse and forward-thinking company; we fully embrace multiplicity and equality in all aspects of our business operation.

Having been involved with MIF’s first festival back in 2007 on Monkey: Journey to the West during my time working at the Palace Theatre The Factory has a special place in my heart; to be able to contribute so tangibly to something that my friends and family can experience for years to come is truly an incredible feeling.  Being a fan of the fantastic work MIF produce and attract already, I can’t wait to see what they do next!

Joanne Roney OBE – Chief Executive, Manchester City Council

As Chief Executive of Manchester City Council I’m ultimately responsible for the team, and the delivery of The Factory project.

I started as a 16 year old apprentice in Birmingham. I worked my way to the top via Kirklees, Sheffield and Wakefield, spending most of my career based in housing and regeneration.

The most rewarding thing about working on this project is seeing the passion, ambition, dedication and determination of all the team delivering this project.

I can’t wait for the fantastic year-round programme of world class events that I know will be coming to The Factory, and I am also really excited about all the job and training opportunities it’s already giving to local people.

There is no such thing as a typical day in local government! Joanne Roney OBE - Chief Executive, Manchester City Council

Larissa Moulin-Villar – Design Manager, Laing O’Rourke

Before working as a Design Manager for Laing O’Rourke I worked as an Architect in Brazil where I am originally from and where I studied my BA in Architecture and Urban Planning. In the UK, I graduated with an MSc in Construction Project Management which led me to a job with Laing O`Rourke.

I always try to start by planning my day ahead. A typical day often includes attendance to one of the project’s daily meetings, in addition to various discussions with the Design Team and the supply chain.

The Factory is a new world-class cultural space currently being built in the heart of Manchester and designed by internationally-renowned architects Rem Koolhaas’ Office for Metropolitan Architecture. The Factory will commission, present and produce a year-round programme, featuring new work from the world’s greatest artists and offering a space to make, explore and experiment.

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