Emma Cogswell

12th February 2021

arc catches up with Emma Cogswell to find out more about her new venture – The Skills Army, which has been established as a tool to help young designers find their way around the lighting industry.

How did you get into lighting?

I was incredibly fortunate to have been taught lighting by the illustrious Mary Rushton-Beales. Lighting was a module on my interior design course, and this was a catalyst into my lighting adventures. What started out as a six-week trial saw me catapulted to Dubai in the mid 90s, where we worked on some of the early shopping malls and hotels. For the next decade we saw the desert turn into a metropolis, I was captivated. I also became interested in the effects of light on human health and the wider environment. This has since become a very hot topic with biophilic design assisting us to live and work in more healthy spaces for mind, body and productivity. In 2001 I was introduced to the IALD, which lead me to many new relationships. These became a rich source of inspiration as I met some of the worlds’ most famous architects, including Tadao Ando, Zaha Hadid, and Daniel Libeskind; not to mention being able to make friends with lighting nobility such as Charles Stone, Andreas Schulz, Rogier Van de Heide, Mark Major, Motoko Ishii and her wonderful daughter Lisa Ishii, and many more; each person explained their inspirations and passion for the job, it became infectious. 

Can you describe your lighting career so far?

Fantastic! There can’t be many other jobs where no two days are the same? I am trained in architectural lighting but playing with lights at festivals and workshops has been a great way to learn. The privileges I have had are almost too many to mention, from lighting the Tower of London, to being at the top of a minaret at the Oxford Islamic centre. It’s been a voyage of discovery. The last few years have seen my work change towards a more educational bias – taking part in light festivals such as Lights in Alingsås. I’m also incredibly proud to have developed the 100W challenge with Simon Thorp at LAPD and Stuart Knox of LED Linear, where teams were invited to light a whole house using only 100W. Being able to be part of the SLL Masterclass was also hugely rewarding and enabled me to brush up on my presenting skills. 

What is the Skills Army? How was it created?

The Skills Army is the culmination of all my experience and an open invitation to all the people I have met along the way to share their wisdom. To enable others to gain insight, have confidence and feel prepared to take that next step in their career journey, in lighting and the built environment. It was created from a conversation with a young architect who asked if I was able to help with a series of skills, such as writing a CV, interview techniques, social media tips and effective networking. I set about gathering information and compiling a series of links to available resources, to help people find their way around the lighting industry, to encourage them to look at lighting as a possible career option. 

What are your ambitions for Skills Army? What do you hope to bring to the lighting community?

My aim is to deliver an aspirational platform that excites and informs. We need to show young graduates that there is an array of opportunity in the lighting industry. We now have a 50/50 men to women ratio – the new challenge is to open the doors to minority groups. 

Was it a difficult decision to set this up, especially in the middle of a global pandemic?

Absolutely not. This is a great time for innovation and opportunity, to energise young people coming through education or to reboot people that have a change of circumstance. The pandemic is much like a forest fire, devastation can bring new life and resilience. Now is the time to grasp the nettle and be thought leaders. This industry is an integral part of the wider built environment and we need to tell other professionals why lighting is so important. 

Do you have a ‘Mission Statement’ or philosophy for Skills Army?

The philosophy is to take it one step at a time. Grow confidence and help others achieve. Armies aren’t one person, they are recruits, sergeants, generals, a framework that supports. 

How can people get involved?

Anyone can get involved. The easiest way is to visit our website. From there you can follow all our social media channels, which give current references to events and happenings. The involvement has many facets, if you are a professional you can upload your profile, for free. If you are a manufacturer and have a project or product you want to shout about, contact us. Maybe you are a designer or educator and like to bring information out of the archive, send us the link. Do you have a job vacancy? Use our handy portal to fill that that role. We are open and flexible to support the industry in any way we can. 

Since setting it up, what sort of reception have you had? How has the industry reacted to it?

Overwhelming support has kept us going, from a simple a post on LinkedIn. Massive thanks to Eve Gaut and the team at Parrot PR and Marketing for their expertise in PR and Marketing. Manufacturers have stepped up as early supporters including Erco, iGuzzini, Lumino, formalighting and finally thank you to the lighting design companies that have agreed to allow access to archived and current educational material: Leni Schwendinger, Paul Nulty, Mark Ridler, Mary Ruston-Beales, Christopher Knowlton, and Marcus Steffen to name a few. 

The instant support from the industry associations SLL, ILP and LIA has been very heart-warming as well as multiple media providers. 

What have you got in the pipeline for Skills Army? What can we expect to see from you in the near future?

We are looking forward to curating exciting and engaging events and making new relationships with the broader design communities. We are only at the beginning of building the Skills Army and welcome anyone who wants to lend their support. 

What do you think the future holds for the lighting industry?

I am an optimist. I know things will get better as we live through the pandemic and come out of the other side. This is a great opportunity for us to reimagine how we want to live our lives for the next generation. If we work together as an army we will build support and resilience.