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Shaking the branch

East of Scotland

AFTER PREVIOUS incarnations as an exhibitions organiser, festival director, fund raiser, journalist, lyricist and PR consultant, Henny King is an ICE branch development officer with a difference.

Pint sized but turbo charged, Canadian Henny King's talent for publicity - which saw her splashed in the Scottish press in a suit patterned with newspaper stories of Dundee's 800th birthday - has been unleashed on the East Scotland local association.

The public relations veteran freely admits that she knew nothing about engineering before becoming the ICE's fifth BDO in April; but she sees this as an advantage.

'I was asked at my interview what I could contribute and I replied 'total ignorance'. I'm not saying a retired civil engineer wouldn't do a really good job, but if you come from outside the profession and are asking basic questions, then you know the kind of the questions that the general public would like answering.'

With a roving brief to raise the profile of the East Scotland association, Henny is determined to use all her skills to promote the association in an area with 900 civil engineers but an average attendance of only 60 to 70 people for meetings and 100 for the annual dinner.

Henny is working on a questionnaire to find out what members would be interested in, but has already hatched some plans to spice up of East Scotland's meetings.

'Kirriemuir is the birthplace of the creator of Peter Pan, Sir James Bury and for our AGM we have lined up the development architect Fred Stevens who is working on a millennium Peter Pan Garden in the city.' Stevens will talk about the creation of Never Never Land in Dundee, which is at feasibility study stage, while Henny uses her contacts to secure sponsorship and get the flash lights popping.

Her trip to Civils 98 resulted in the first of a series of upcoming ICE seminars to be staged in Dundee.

'I met the chairman of the research committee Mike Thorn and he talked about some exciting seminars he is putting on about research at Reading university on the global requirements for engineers. I'm proud to say that the inaugural seminar on 13 October will be held in Dundee.'

For the presidential visit of Roger Sainsbury, she is hoping to entice global computer games guru David Jones, who started his company in Dundee and is still based there.

For a woman with a reputation for organising a good party, it is all part of a simple policy of widening the appeal and making the local association events more fun.

After building a reputation for organising street parties in Manchester in the 1970s, her co-ordination of Dundee's 800th birthday celebrations in 1991 was quite literally the icing on the cake.

'We asked British Gas if a huge cake shaped gas works in the city could be decked out with candles. People for miles around saw it and media interest was heightened.'

Henny's research in a local library revealed Dundee's long neglected Hogmanay tradition of dressing herrings in little dresses to be given as gifts. Days later, 800 dressed herrings were circulating the city of Dundee and she even persuaded the late Jean Muir to design a dress for the herrings. The photo opportunity with the Countess of Dundee and a basket of herrings, both dressed by Jean Muir was a typical triumph for a lady who now lectures in public relations at Dundee University after 30 years in the business.

Henny's latest challenge is to get people interested in a profession which she feels is undervalued by society.

'I've found in general that engineers are very modest. The profession is fundamental to our society, but it is taken for granted. Not enough is done to make the public aware of how engineers affect their life. I would venture that 90% of Joe Public does not know what a civil engineer does. We need to educate the public about how important civil engineers are. I have said to my local association, if you can convey to me what a civil engineer does then I can communicate that to the public.

'Civil engineers should push themselves forward more. They have been much neglected by the media but a lot of that is their own fault. Architects like James Stirling have a public profile but not civil engineers. Why not? I'm sure there are people who would enjoy some of the limelight and these

are the people we must promote.'

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