How Co Down guitar-maker Hannah ensures Ed Sheeran stays in fine tune
IT isn't every teenager who can say that their job involves keeping Ed Sheeran in guitars.
But, having shunned the traditional educational path in favour of a higher-level apprenticeship, Co Down student Hannah Dunwoody can claim just that.
Apart from being the only female apprentice at the internationally-renowned Lowden Guitars, the 19-year-old singer and musician revealed that her unique role involves working on Sheeran's guitars.
And the South Eastern Regional College (SERC) pupil said that she hopes to meet the world's biggest pop star, who is one of her musical heroes, when he next visits the Downpatrick-based company.
She explained: "My official title is 'apprentice guitar production manufacturer', so I'm tasked with making the necks of guitars.
"Ed Sheeran has partnered with Lowden Guitars to make his own brand and that's what I'm working on at the minute.
"We're not sure exactly when Ed is coming but he's due in soon to have a wee look over the place so that will be quite an exciting experience for me.
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"I'm a big fan of his; I've been listening to his music for years, since his first album came out, so it's quite a big honour to be working for him."
She added: "It was a bit daunting going into this, knowing that Lowden is an incredible manufacturer who makes guitars for so many famous people including (American singer/songwriter) John Mayer and (Irish pop singer) JC Stewart, but I now know it's the best decision I could've made."
Hannah is only one of four women on her three-year SERC course in Mechatronics - which, she said, "is a combination of mechanical engineering and electronic engineering" - at the Bangor campus. She said she cannot imagine being afforded the opportunity to mix business with pleasure to the same extent anywhere else. She also pointed out that her boss, company founder George Lowden, "is a celebrity in his own right" who is "a real legend to work for".
It is a four-day working week for her at Lowden Guitars, from 8am until 4.30pm Monday to Wednesday and from 8am to 2.30pm on Friday, with one day a week (Thursday) spent at SERC from 9am to 5pm.
"I'm getting the opportunity to learn all the theory which I can bring back to the workplace where I am learning on the job every day, so it is the best of both worlds," she said, adding that she eventually hopes to get a job involving "maths, physics and making things".
"I'm currently employed as a guitar manufacturer, so being able to have that job straight away has been great and also to have that experience of making things," Hannah said.
"Lowden have been incredibly encouraging and have been a brilliant company to work for. They really care about their employees and are really good to them as well."
Having started on "the minimum wage for my age" - £6.50 an hour - Hannah got a pay rise recently following a promotion, although she did not disclose her current salary.
She does not regret her decision not to follow the traditional A-level and university route and instead complete a Level 3 Extended Diploma in Engineering at SERC.
"You go to school, college and university to learn with the ultimate goal of employment - I've just got there a little faster through this route," she said.
"I'm continuing my education and learning while I'm earning, plus I will have three years' work experience under my belt by the time I'm finished the higher-level apprenticeship.
"I certainly didn't want to be leaving university with a pile of debt before I even started working."
Hannah, who sings and plays piano, guitar and ukulele, said she was instantly attracted to the role because of music.
She added: "For me it's the best of both worlds."
South Eastern Regional College is taking part in Northern Ireland Apprenticeship Week, February 3 - 7, 2020. The new initiative from the Department for the Economy offers an opportunity to demonstrate how apprenticeships works for individuals, businesses, communities and the wider economy.