The woman making waves at the Mersey Ferries

Louise Robinson, Ship Superintendent at the Mersey Ferries, is a shining example of what determination and a few well-timed choices can achieve. Starting her career in graphic design, she’s now several career changes and a few hundred miles from where she believed her working life would take her, and she couldn’t be happier.

Louise Robinson stood outside Seacombe Ferry Terminal. Blue linkspan bridge in background.

Setting out into the working world at just 15, Louise learnt a sense of what it was to earn money while working a Saturday job in WHSmith her local town of Dover. For the duration of her teen years, between school and a myriad of weekend jobs, she found a love for Art and Design; it was this new hobby that propelled her into a Graphic Design BA Degree at Maidstone University, and a future working at trendy magazines. However, getting started wasn’t as easy as anticipated. Following numerous rejection letters from Junior Graphic Design jobs in London, Louise made a slight change in career trajectory and decided to complete a PGCE, going on to teach A-Level students at Ashford College. While a slight diversion from her anticipated route, teaching was something that helped her develop some great skills; she learnt just as much as she taught. The ability to pass on her wisdom and advice as a recent student made her relatable and built trust with her students. For her, the coaching and teaching skills she developed were priceless. This career step gave her a great foundation for the future and taught her how to help people get the best out of themselves, regardless of backgrounds or skill level. It’s something she still takes into every role today.

While fulfilling, teaching wasn’t her forever career and Louise found herself trying to make a break into the commercial world once more. Eventually, she found her niche, becoming a freelance graphic designer for some well-respected magazines, from Marie Clare to NME, to name a few. After a few years of working on various projects, she found Smash Hits Magazine – one of her favourite jobs in her career to date – where she worked as a Designer and spent many happy years being part of the London scene, and on the forefront of what would become the digital age. It was also where she met her partner. However, before long, life took an unexpected turn when Smash Hits folded, and she found herself redundant. Not one to be defeated, Louise jumped back in the job pool and found herself working for another young magazine, Top of the Pops. However, that wasn’t meant to be and, as it always does, life forced her to make changes. Unsure of the ‘right’ next step, but with the support of her close family and friends behind her, Louise packed her bags and decided to follow her new relationship to Liverpool and start over once again.

Quickly, Louise found her footing and decided to take a risk and start her own company. She quickly honed the skills needed to run a small business and enjoyed it! This unexpected turn of events had allowed her to make some great new contacts, start a family, and give her the flexibility she needed to create an enjoyable work/life balance. And, after nearly a decade of being her own boss, one of these very same contacts made her an offer she couldn’t refuse. Before she knew it, she found herself working on a dockyard, in an alien environment discussing the best ways to project manage the maintenance of large boats, as a newly recruited Project Manager. Recently 40, and with a young family at home, she had, almost accidentally, stumbled upon the job that would become the new (career) love of her life.

Being fairly new to this ever-changing environment and working alongside people who had been in the industry for years, Louise did everything she could to combat and overcome her knowledge gaps. She worked overtime, took endless training courses, and did her best to devour as much information as possible. Before long, she was skill-matching almost all of those around her and, more importantly earning their respect. She moved through the ranks and was forging a successful marine career. Unfortunately, as quickly as this wonderful opportunity arrived, it was taken away. It was 2020 and, along with all the other changes in the world, the shipyard went up for sale. Undeterred, she did the only thing she could. She picked herself up, dusted herself down and applied for a job at the Mersey Ferries. Luck was on her side; one short interview later, Louise found herself as the newest Civil, Structural and Marine Officer, and has never looked back. As she embarked on this new and exciting career, she found herself once again progressing faster than anyone expected, working hard to complete numerous training courses, and rather impressively, passing top of her class for her Superintendent certificate last year! All the hard work paid off and she was promoted to Deputy Superintendent within a year, before securing her current role as Ship Superintendent.

Reflecting on the past six years in the marine industry, Louise appears almost overwhelmed with how far she’s come.  She’s proud of herself, for achieving the status of ‘First female Ship Superintendent at the Mersey Ferries in more than 800 years’ – or, as far as we know, since records began. And she’s proud of what this means for the industry. In her own words, she tells us how she is supported daily by a team who she trusts, and who trust her. Louise spends her days planning the ongoing maintenance and repair of the iconic Mersey Ferries while also, managing the experienced teams that keep the Ferries in service. Recently, she’s been one of the team behind the new Mersey Ferry and is excited about the chance to showcase her skills as they move through the design and build, before setting off for first sail late 2025.

Ship Superintendent isn’t an easy job; Louise works in a traditionally male-dominated environment and, quite often, works alongside people who have more than half-a-career more experience than she does. Not shy of hard work, she does everything she can to bridge this knowledge gap and has a great team around her who, if you ask them, will sing her praises, and support the change she has brought to the role. Her love for the job shines through, you can see this when she’s passionately explaining the intricacies of keeping the services running to anyone who’ll listen, or in the hours she spends meticulously planning how to make sure the boats are at their very best for every passenger’s journey. She’s succeeding at an unexpected career and she’s happier than she’s ever been.

With all she has achieved, you’d think Louise would be very settled and content, ready to adapt to this new career and settle into her routine. But she’s not done yet. With a few more cards up her sleeve, Louise is ready to make the changes needed to encourage more diversity on the Mersey Ferries, and to her industry in general. In her lifetime she wants to see a healthy balance of gender identities within the Mersey Ferries engineering teams, and she’s ready to take on the challenge and support others where she can, to make it happen.

We asked Louise for some parting words, a way for her to share her wisdom and to inspire anyone who reads this, here is what she had to say:

“Take risks, support each other, and be happy. The past six years have taught me a lot. The best advice I can give is whatever you do, in whatever career you choose, be happy. Happiness isn’t just for the lucky people and it’s not just about the doing, you need people, an organisation and a team that will accept and support you. It’s about your working environment too, don’t settle for anything other than acceptance. I have found friends for life in my job, I know they’re here to celebrate my wins and help me through challenging times and difficult decisions. Don’t stop looking until you get the support you need, and you feel good about what you do and where you’re doing it; find the place you fit. We spend a lot of time at work, so do everything you can to be happy while you’re there.”

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