Meet the team: 10 questions with Heather Barrable
We chat with development and content officer Heather Barrable about her fascinating work at UKAHT, what she learnt during six weeks on a Welsh mountainside and her upcoming trip of a lifetime to the Ross Sea.
1. Tell us about yourself
I have described myself as the Dr Who of the career world: regenerating myself every few years to take on a new challenge and follow dreams. After my geology degree and master's in vertebrate palaeontology (fossils), I worked for the Institution of Electrical Engineers organising events and generating online content. Next, I trained as a magazine sub-editor working on hair, wedding and interiors titles, finishing up as a homes editor commissioning and writing features on readers’ homes. Getting married meant a move out of London to the wilds of north Essex to an idyllic village and a listed cottage, which are harder to love in the winter! With two children under my belt, I returned to university to study midwifery. Following graduation, I worked for the Rosie Hospital at Addenbrookes in Cambridge and was privileged to welcome new life into our changing world.
Heather while working as a midwife (Credit: Heather Barrable)
2. What does a normal day at UKAHT look like for you?
I’m UKAHT’s Development and Content Officer. On an average day, my development role may see me managing membership renewals, thanking our generous donors or signing up new penguin adopters. Come autumn and spring you’ll also find me writing and proofing our Antarctic Times magazine drawing on my publishing background. I also assist with our public engagement programme, be it researching speakers for our webinars and podcasts or managing the questions on the night. With my content hat on, I’m always on the lookout for stories that bring our historic sites to life by scouring the British Antarctic Survey archives, listening to oral histories and speaking to those with first-hand experience. I’m often the first point of contact the public, members and supporters have with the Trust and strive to make meaningful connections.
Heather with the UKAHT team in the Peak District (Credit: Heather Barrable)
3. What made you want to work for UKAHT?
My sliding doors moment was following the UKAHT Facebook page. Inspired by my great grandfather’s copy of The Great White South by Herbert Ponting, I have devoured stories of human endeavour in Antarctica for as long as I can remember. So discovering UKAHT gave me a whole new source of 20th-century history, describing the birth of science on the continent bridging the heroic era and today’s research. I spotted the job advert for Administration and Development Assistant and the rest, as they say, is history.
4. What's your favourite UKAHT site?
Wow! This is akin to being asked to choose my favourite child! I love them for different reasons: they each have their own personality and stories to tell. However, if I had to pick today, I’d choose the Damoy Hut and skiway. I’ve been tracking down stories and photographs from the site’s operational history to tell during our recent fundraising for the conservation work there to return the hut to its original orange paint colour. So many inspiring people have been in touch to share tales of life in the world’s southernmost waiting room from homemade ‘Fidopoly’ games to an indoor Olympics…
Homemade Fidopoly (Credit: Sarah Auffret/UKAHT)
5. What's your favourite species of penguin?
As the administrator for the Adopt a Penguin scheme, my loyalty lies with the gentoo species of penguin! Football pitch-sized Goudier Island is not only home to our Port Lockroy site established in 1944 but also to around 500 pairs of gentoo penguins. Data we have collected since 1996 for scientists from the British Antarctic Survey offers insights into the gentoo’s long-term survival. In almost two years working for UKAHT, I have searched through hundreds of gentoo photos for the perfect pose and the cutest chick, but I never tire of looking at their flamboyant orange bills, white feather bonnets, peach-coloured feet and prominent brush tails. I love hearing from our penguin adopters whose support allows us to monitor the health of the population and protect their environment.
Heather is a fan of the gentoo (Credit: Heather Barrable)
6. If you were working at Port Lockroy for the season, what luxury item would you take?
Everyone who has travelled with me knows I go nowhere without a hot water bottle! I do feel the cold and there’s something comforting about snuggling up to a warm bottle when you’re away from home.
Heather's favourite site, Damoy Hut, was recently restored (Credit: Sven Habermann/UKAHT)
7. Tell us about a travel experience that changed you
When I read accounts of the surveyors and geologists from our historic bases, I often think back to my undergraduate mapping project in the wilds of Snowdonia drawing on my experience to put myself in their shoes. From peat bogs to the summit of Tryfan at over 900m, I learned the discipline of carrying on day after day. I clambered, scrabbled and stomped over 10km2 of heather-strewn mountainside stopping at rock outcrops to make observations and take samples with my trusty hammer. Alone for six weeks, aside for my Sony Walkman, the experience taught me resilience, perseverance and respect for nature.
8. Tell us about a dream trip you still want to take
I’m excited to tell you that I’ve booked my dream trip: to Antarctica in January 2024 on a 28-day cruise to the Ross Sea with Heritage Expeditions. At last, I’ll be travelling in the footsteps of Ponting to the Great White South fulfilling a lifelong ambition. The biggest draw for me are the historic huts of Borchgrevink, Scott and Shackleton. I’ll be sharing this once-in-a-lifetime experience with my mum, who is just as much of an Antarctic addict as me, providing us with a shared experience and memories to treasure. Thanks to UKAHT for giving me the time off!
Heather is heading to the Ross Sea with her mum (Credit: Heather Barrable)
9. If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
It’s easy to feel that you alone can’t make a difference when the thing you would like to change seems so large. Helen Keller, deafblind activist said, “I am only one, but still I am one; I cannot do everything, but still I can do something and, just because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
So my one thing would be to change apathy to action. Let’s all do our something.
10. Could you tell us about something you have learned while working at UKAHT?
I’ve learned that the Antarctic heroes of my childhood picture books stand on the shoulders of an anonymous, hidden throng of everyday people whose stories remain largely untold. Advances in exploration and science would not have been possible without the sailors, sledge hauliers, cooks, carpenters and mechanics. Dr Ben Maddison in his podcast episode The White Continent? looks at Antarctic exploration from below, highlighting those at the bottom of the Antarctic hierarchy. This theme was picked up in our webinar on Untold Stories of Antarctica, this time shining a light on the contribution of women to the continent’s story.
A sledge party near Detaille during the IGY (Credit: BAS Archive)
The International Geophysical Year (1957-58) marked an era of scientific cooperation across nations and set in motion the chain of events leading to the signing of the international Antarctic Treaty in 1959. Here in Cambridge, at UKAHT, ‘we are collaborative’ is one of our values acknowledging that we can achieve more if we work together. Antarctica teaches that we count on everyone and everyone counts. Not only should we uncover the underpinning contributions of those in the historical shadows but we should also ensure that the wonder of the continent can be shared by all equally.
Adopt a penguin
Follow a unique colony at the end of the world
The gentoos of Port Lockroy are perhaps some of the most famous penguins in the world! The colony made their home with us on Goudier Island over 30 years ago and we have been studying and contributing to their protection ever since. Inquisitive, fluffy and funny, we love sharing their activity with everyone around the world.