Eighteen-year-old Emily Leese has been appointed as the first female apprentice in the workshop at the National Motor Museum, Beaulieu. When she successfully completes her four-year apprenticeship, Emily will become the first to do so since Museum Manager and Chief Engineer Doug Hill finished his own apprenticeship 40 years ago.
The Workshop Apprentice Blog will follow her journey, as she learns the essential skills needed to look after and preserve the museum’s remarkable machines. We begin with an interview with Emily about her passion for her new role, what drives her and plans for the future.
How did you get started?
I began work experience in the museum when I was 14-years-old, particularly helping out on the information desk. I loved it here and they couldn’t get rid of me! After that, when I was studying Motor Vehicle Engineering at Sparsholt College in Hampshire, I came to the workshop as a volunteer one day a week.
Working on the museum's 1930 'Blower' Bentley, Emily tightens up the bolts that hold the rebuilt engine to the chassis
What made you want to learn how to mend and restore vintage vehicles?
I don’t know why I love cars so much but I have ever since I was about three-years-old. My parents aren’t into cars, so I guess it all came from me. Fixing things is my passion. I was always playing with toy cars when I was a child and wanted to be an AA lady! Even then, I decided that I wanted to have the knowledge to fix a broken-down car.
Growing up near Beaulieu, I was lucky enough to go to lots of different classic car events. At a Morris car rally, someone suggested that I get in touch with Doug Hill, the National Motor Museum Manager and Chief Engineer, about work experience. I’ve been involved with the museum ever since.
Emily prepares the front end of the Bentley's crankshaft in readiness for refitting the car's supercharger
What do your friends think of your career path?
My friends aren’t into cars but they think my career path is pretty cool. At school, I chose to study Design Technology Resistant Materials rather than, say, cookery. I was the only girl on the course. Then when I finished school, I found the course at Sparsholt College, which gave me a direction to go in although I was one of only two women on the course.
How are you fitting in with the all-male workshop team?
It’s good fun being in the workshop and getting involved. I think I fit in quite well so far and all of the guys have been really good. They’re a welcoming bunch, so I definitely feel like part of the team and I’m really enjoying working here. In the years that I have been coming to the National Motor Museum, I have become much more outgoing and confident, as I used to be very shy.
What projects are you involved with as part of your training?
There are always several vehicle projects on the go in the workshop, so there is plenty to help with each day, learning as I go and watching how the other guys work. I get involved in whatever projects are being worked on, from cleaning and polishing to putting things back together. Recently, I helped to re-fit the engine to our 1930 ‘Blower’ Bentley, helping to steady the engine and to line everything up as it was carefully lowered back on to the chassis.
Do you have your own classic car or what would your dream car be?
My favourite car is the Morris Minor. Years ago, I saw one and thought ‘that’s a really nice car’. Then I saw how easy they are to work on and thought I’d like one of those. One day, I’d love to have my own to restore.
I really wanted a classic as my first car and then I found a Rover 100 on the Internet. It’s one of my favourite cars. My mum had one when I was about five or six and I really liked hers, while my grandparents had two Metros. It’s really cute and I just fell in love with it. I’ve not had to do anything to it yet, although a hole in the exhaust will need sorting out soon.”
Do you think this apprenticeship is the start of a viable career working with historic vehicles?
Yes, I do. With so much going on in the workshop all the time, looking after the cars, commercial vehicles and motorcycles in the museum, I’m hoping to stay here at Beaulieu for a long time. I don’t know what the future of the classic car movement will be or what will be considered a classic in years to come but the vehicle collection will always be here to be looked after.
What are your aims for the future?
I’ve always wanted to work here at the National Motor Museum, so after my apprenticeship I really want to stay here in the workshop for a long time. To be honest, I haven’t really thought about where the future will take me, I just want to focus on doing the best job I can. As there are so many vehicles to look after and maintain, I think that I will be working on all sorts of things for quite a while yet.