Louisa Allen (née David, Class of 1993)

Tell us what you do for a living?
I’ve just been appointed Head of a department at Network Rail which I’m super excited about and can’t wait to get started.
Are you doing what you thought you’d be doing after you left school?
At RLS I wanted to be an engineer, as I loved Maths and Physics but after reading Engineering at Oxford Uni and working for engineering companies (Nortel and Bovis Construction) I developed a dream to become a lawyer, it sort of sprouted from someone telling me I couldn’t change profession and a desire to learn law to help others. Today’s students will have long careers, so don’t be afraid to let your jobs meander as long as you’re being true to yourself and feel you’re making a valued contribution.
What’s been your inspiration – what’s pulled you forwards and into your current role?
Many people have supported me at different times. I’ve found huge benefit in cultivating my support networks and always look for ways to give someone a helping hand where I can. I take inspiration from my friends and family who have encountered immense challenge, loss, disabilities etc and their capacity to be so positive about what they are going through and show simple acts of kindness to others. Metaphorically they pick themselves up and brush the dust off over and over again and I’m fortunate to have them as my role models in both my professional and personal life.
What would you say is your biggest achievement to date, the thing you’re most proud of? Professionally or personally!
Gosh that’s hard! I’m really proud to qualify as a solicitor, as after having our two children I’ll always have this professional background. I’m proud that my husband and I have managed to juggle home and work life together. 
I’m most proud of where I’ve started some ripples with other like-minded people, which became waves of progress in relation to say, creating a more level playing field.
I always encourage new graduates and apprentices to find something they feel passionate about, link up with others who feel the same way and let the ripples radiate. 
Was there a particular teacher, or a moment at school that particularly inspired you?
Unusually I was a boarder at RLS back in the day when Brookfield house was a boarding school and as teenager who lacked some discipline in waking up in good time etc, boarding school really gave me structure. We would have prep every weekday night where we would all sit in the English classroom from 6 – 7:30pm and get all our homework and study done. Funny thing is that we boarders did well in our exams, no parents present, just each other and good supervision. 
In hindsight this rhythm has stayed with me through to adulthood and been a really positive influence. 
How important do you think your school days were in shaping who you are today?
RLS for me was about attitude, you can be the cleverest most academic person but if you have the incorrect behaviour you’ll struggle in the world. Going to school helps you learn how to interact with your peers, it should help shape your views and values. 
I’m a great believer in students learning to exercise their own independent thoughts. Progress was never made with everyone thinking the same, doing the same as everyone else. Don’t be afraid to be different and exercise your freedom to choose. If something doesn’t feel or sit right, you don’t have to go along with it. You can ignore or challenge constructively. These skills of exercising independent thought will help you in later life. 
What’s your work:life balance like? How important is that to you?
Work life balance is very important, even if you’re doing something you love you’ll need to take a break to recharge your mind, body and soul to reignite the passion and drive. 
My rule of thumb is to plan in your breaks ahead of time so they are in your diary. It might be meeting a friend for lunch to break up a day, or booking an exercise class. Be tuned into your body, you’ll have your own individual signs of stress, which will be your barometer, monitor these and take time out if you need to. Your body is an engine, which can’t really be replaced, so nourish and respect it.
What advice would you give to today’s students who may be struggling to choose which path to take beyond school?
You each have a unique set of skills and abilities, as you learn across the curriculum you’ll find things you enjoy and it’s likely your interests will be different from your friends. When you find the areas you enjoy, please nurture those interests and don’t be afraid to ask questions, find out more, read around. 
I’m worried about the amount of social media that students can get sucked into, please take care in this space. Very few people feel good after spending hours in front of screens. It’s highly addictive and can negatively affect your life. I recommend you set specific times of the day when you allow yourself time on it, then you’re in control and not the other way round. If something upsets you, there is an off button and delete too – and talk to someone in person if you need support. One day, we will sort this out – perhaps you will be part of the change to come.
Finally, do you have a favourite quote, expression or mantra which inspires you to keep going?
Can I have two quotes?! My first favourite is “Feel the fear and do it anyway” from Susan Jeffers. Everyone feels fear, it’s the most natural human emotion but don’t let it stop you from doing the things you want to. As long as what you’re doing doesn’t cause harm to yourself or others.
My other favourite is “Don’t sweat the small stuff” we can all get caught up with little things that frustrate us, but getting the bigger picture and asking yourself “will this matter in 5 years time?” Is a useful check on whether you need to sweat over it. If you’ve messed up (and everyone messes up) don’t obsess over it, ask what have I learnt, be gracious for the learning and then let it go. We are all works in progress, life is a journey but it’s jolly fun too!

Application to Sixth Form 2023

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