Hi, I’m Declan Nicholson, founder of Blue Sky Engineering Consultants.
A love of construction (and an unconventional path)
I grew up in a small, idyllic seaside town, spending much of my childhood outdoors. Like most kids, I loved to build things – but instead of Lego and blocks, I drew inspiration from the great outdoors. Studying a pair of intertwined trees in my grandparent’s garden, I first realised that a triangle is the most stable shape. Nature can teach us a lot about the structures we design and build.
When I should have been studying for my A-Levels, I was actually working as a builder’s labourer. After failing them (surprise, surprise) I made a deal with my Mum to retake them at night school, while I continued to gain construction experience by day. I eventually made it to University, but I filled every possible role on a building site beforehand. Most construction professionals never get their hands dirty.
A desk job and a hard hat
I’ve stood around on a building site, scratching my head while I wait for input from an engineer – so I know that when designs require endless changes and clarifications, a lot of money and time is wasted. Wielding a trowel, and wearing a hard hat, has helped me to understand the realities of bringing a design to life. That’s why the team at Blue Sky interrogate their work thoroughly, to ensure construction is never harder than it needs to be.
Relationships between construction professionals and builders can be fraught, but I believe we’re not on opposing teams, we just need to communicate more clearly. Having a foot in each camp helps me and my staff build strong relationships with construction workers. This can often be the difference between a successful project and a disastrous one. Speaking the right language? That’s matters a lot.
SOMETHING HAD TO GIVE
After graduating, I was lucky enough to be employed as a structural engineer for several global companies. I helped clients from Dubai to New York to Norway, travelling business class and working on exciting, large-scale projects. My family was well provided for, and life was good. This all changed at Christmas 2012. Flicking through family photo albums, I realised that my face was absent from so many occasions. I’d missed birthdays and school plays, sports days and grazed knees. I was missing out on my kids’ childhoods, and they were missing me. Over the next six months, the job I’d loved began to feel like a trap. I was working long hours, at the expense of my family, in order to fuel a corporate ‘profit before innovation’ ethos. Talking to colleagues, I discovered that many shared the same frustrations. For me, something had to give, so I summoned up the courage to resign and set up my own business – Blue Sky Consulting Engineers.