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WSPs Nicole Chung is an Urban Environment Changemaker

WSP's Nicole Chung is an Urban Environment Changemaker

 February 11, 2022

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Nicole Chung is an Apprentice and an Urban Environment Changemaker at WSP, currently working in landscape architecture for public realm spaces at a HS2 station.

Apprentice Nicole left her job in healthcare to pursue a degree in Environmental Science. Just five months into the course, she has helped to schedule soft landscaping on an HS2 project, volunteered with local charities and networked with people from a wide range of disciplines – all while progressing in her career and studying for her degree. In WSP's series of apprentice interviews, Nicole shares why she believes more green spaces in our towns and cities will encourage people to take better care of the environment.

The built environment is intrinsic to health 

Growing up in London, Nicole didn’t have much exposure to the outdoors and wildlife, "When you spend so much time in a city, you don’t realise how much you need nature, and you don’t realise how much you need to look after it," she explains.

While working in healthcare, it became apparent to her that so much of what they treated were symptoms, so people would continue to come back with various symptoms unless the root of their problem was addressed. – a long term solution was needed. 

"For example, depression or anxiety can manifest as physical symptoms of aches and pains or fatigue. These can of course be treated medicinally but changing the environment - through communal spaces or better work life balance – can also help to alleviate that. Our built environment is so intrinsic to our health and the natural environment," comments Nicole. 

Real-world work experience

Nicole chose WSP as its Future Ready initiative embodies this concept of treating the root of the problem. She says, "It’s preparing now and building for what we predict will happen in the future. The approach is an investment because you use fewer resources, less carbon and become more sustainable in the long run."

Nicole always preferred applying knowledge to real life from theory straight into work. This is why she chose the apprenticeship route. 

 "You still get a degree at the end of the five years, but you are working on your career progression too. You also have an opportunity to rotate and work in different teams, so you build your experience and a network at the same time," shares Nicole.

Environmental workplace action

Currently working in landscape architecture for public realm spaces at a HS2 station, Nicole explains its relevance: "Each area of the associated public realm is designed with a purpose in mind – like acting as a rain garden. And there’s so much to think about: drainage, which plants are going to go where, how well they absorb pollutants, and how they will interact with each other and the built environment."

"When you plant a tree, you consider what it will be like 10 years from now. You have to create an environment where it can grow but not come out into the pavement – which is bad for the tree and bad for the people who can trip over it. We can use things like tree pits and root barriers to encourage the tree’s roots to grow downwards. This prevents uneven paving - and protects the tree from root damage too. We also want the greenery to look good and create a positive experience for people, so we use plants that smell nice, like sage and mint," she continues. 

Learning on the job 

There’s a lot for Nicole to learn on this project. She accidentally put a plant into the schedule which was poisonous and didn’t know. But her colleagues made her aware and they simply swapped it out for a more suitable plant. "That’s the culture at WSP. Everyone is happy to help and we’re always learning from each other. I feel very supported here, both in work and opportunities outside of my apprenticeship," she explains. 

There are opportunities for personal growth at WSP and everyone is given two days a year to volunteer at a charity of their choice. Nicole volunteers with the Whitechapel Mission, a day centre for homeless people where they are given a hot breakfast, a shower and a choice of fresh clothes. That’s the important thing for Nicole – people get to choose what they want to wear – because it gives them autonomy. 

Championing the work/life balance 

There is also a WSP initiative called My Hour, where employees can take an hour any time of the day to do something for themselves – and can flex their day to make up the time. Some people go to the gym, other people spend time with their children, while Nicole tends to go for a walk, seeking out green spaces in the city, or meeting a friend for a longer lunch.

Nicole shares why her role at WSP matters, "The built environment is so important in influencing whether we act sustainably – whether we choose to drive, cycle, or walk to our destination. If we create healthier places for people to live in, it’s easier for them to make healthier and more sustainable choices. My apprenticeship at WSP is only just beginning, but I hope to pass on my appreciation for the environment to other people, so we can work together and look after it."

Enjoy a rewarding apprenticeship at WSP 

Does Nicole’s enthusiasm in her urban environment role at WSP UK inspire you? 

Keep an eye on the career opportunities available with WSP.


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