Sarah Virgo at Wood for Good
The campaign manager at the timber industry's wood promotion body is passionate about decarbonising the built environment. She is also a talented pianist.
Why did you choose construction as a career?
I was drawn to my role at Wood for Good out of a desire to work in an area that would help to inform and promote the ways the construction sector can move towards a decarbonised built environment.
What have you worked on that you are most proud of?
Our work at COP26 and the reach that it had within architecture audiences in particular. By sponsoring a conference at the Construction Scotland Innovation Centre (CSIC) we have created connections and built relationships that will be valuable to the timber sector in the future. Being able to speak to like-minded professionals and find out more about the fantastic work being done around the world in decarbonising the built environment was really inspiring.
What has been your biggest career challenge to date?
Starting a new role in a new industry just after the onset of covid-19. You miss out on the face-to-face networking and relationship building, and it's much harder to build a rapport over a video call. However, I think it just challenged me to find more creative ways of connecting with stakeholders.
If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?
Encourage people to listen – really listen – and support the innovators among us; those challenging the status-quo, looking for ways to make our industry more climate-resilient, more diverse and inclusive.
Most helpful advice you were given?
I learnt from my father that building and maintaining relationships, both professionally and personally, is critical to success in whatever you do. I hope that by keeping in touch regularly with Wood for Good's supporters, and building relationships with others across the sector, I can keep taking our work to new heights.
What advice would you give to someone just starting out in your profession?
Soak up as much as you can through reading and hearing what others have to say, not just in your area of the industry but across the supply chain or in other markets. It is important to have a holistic understanding of your area. I have learnt a lot about how to communicate the benefits of timber by reading and learning about other materials.
What is your favourite building in the world?
Not a singular building but, growing up in Queensland, I have a particular fondness for Queenslander-style houses. It is a style of property developed in the early 1800s and is predominately made of timber.
They are elevated, often with intricate and ornate detailing on the interior and veranda. I love them for their aesthetic but also the history and reasoning behind the details – they are designed specifically to deal with the climate and challenges presented by living in the tropics.
Who do you most admire in the construction industry?
People within the industry are constantly learning and finding new ways to solve problems, adapting to changes in legislation, the market or environment. If I had to pick an individual (or two!) in particular, I would need to highlight the team at Transforming Timber, who are working on finding ways to use more timber in different settings, and making products using more home-grown wood. Having visited some of the projects in the CSIC factory and listened to Matt and Sam speak about the project, it is clear that they have passion and they are going to make a difference to how we build.
What famous building do you wish you had worked on?
It would have been amazing to be involved in the Marina Bay Sands project – I remember being absolutely blown away by the concept and building when I visited.
Which famous building do you most dislike?
The newest addition to Edinburgh's skyline: the new St James Quarter. Also affectionately named the walnut whip or giant poo…
What's it like being you?
I'm a talkative extrovert with a lot of ideas. My mind goes off on tangents sometimes and I have to set time aside to get into planning my ideas so that they have the opportunity to become deliverable concepts!
Outside of work, I like to keep busy as well whether it's walking the dog, swimming, volunteering or visiting friends and family.
What do you think your best quality is?
Being open-minded. I like to listen to different points of view, to hear from those who I might disagree with, and understand why someone thinks, feels or works the way that they do. Understanding people, and your audience, is crucial to good marketing.
What trait do you most dislike in yourself? And in other people?
I can sometimes be a bit too determined! Sometimes I struggle with recognising when someone is just not going to change their view or position.
I can't stand close-mindedness in others.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Not really, I just try to treat others how I would want to be treated and give everyone an opportunity to prove themselves. We all have different skills and abilities, the key to good people management is knowing how to put someone's best skills to use in the best way.
Name three things that you like
Being outside among trees; the happy look my dog gets when they are enjoying a walk; and lasagne.
What's a secret skill we don't know you have?
I'm a grade 8 level pianist. I like to play to de-stress and relax.
What is your most prized possession?
An old ring from my grandma.
Early bird or night owl?
Early bird, I am definitely a morning person!
What's your favourite food?
What would your superpower be?
Currently, I'd say my superpower is being able to figure out and understand people – I like to think I'm good at connecting with others. If I could pick a superpower, it would be to change people's minds. I would love to change the views of some of those in positions of power… I would ensure that effective, real action was made on climate change and helping the most vulnerable in our society.
Wood for Good is the UK timber industry's wood promotion campaign.