After finishing University in Portugal, I thought it was a good time to leave my comfort zone and doing an internship outside the country seemed like a good idea. I heard positive things about an organization in Portugal that arranges this type of experience from a friend, so I applied. Thankfully, after a few digital meetings I got accepted.
I remember arriving to Shepherds Bush Market, the location of BIOHM’s research space at the time, and immediately thinking that I came to the wrong place, not thinking it possible for a lab to exist here. Behind the market is a shipping container village, Open Cell, for upcoming start ups. I realised this when I saw two people arriving, from BIOHM, who I recognized from the meetings on Zoom. They entered through a gate that I had not considered as an entry option. Open cell is a small community of start ups, that share much of the space they are in, and that spirit of community and mutual help is something that you feel. It was at Open Cell that I had my first role, helping in the biomimetic research for applications in the design of lighting.
Image: Open Cell Shipping Container Village
I later experienced some more hands on work, when helping Jacob and Fran on the engineering team, making bespoke parts for the mycelium production facility. Here I need to thank them for their patience! My reception at BIOHM was met with a warm welcome, despite having no particular skill in some of these fields. I helped in what I could, with everyone at BIOHM always making sure I was integrated into the company. I must say, what surprised me most, given that BIOHM is a start-up, going through such an important period of growth; everyone always found time for me. This is something that will stick with me and I'm tremendously thankful for.
As my internship took place within the continually developing saga of the coronavirus pandemic, a substantial percentage of my time at BIOHM was spent at home on the laptop. With the company about to move into a new facility, I was tasked with completing the fire risk assessment for the new building, for which I had to do a lot of research and learn how to work with some design software to draw the exit maps.
Image: Standing outside BIOHM's new facility with the fire exit plan, ready to go up on the walls
As things with the pandemic began to improve and restrictions began to relax, I then became more involved with the companies move to this new facility in Bermondsey, South London. I was excited to get involved here. During my time at Open Cell, Fran had told me in relation to Bermondsey "Now you are going to see how the machine works, up until now you have just been inside the engine". It was great to feel the company's growth in such tangible terms, as I saw each space and area taking shape and gaining purpose.
Later on I had the privilege of taking part in van trips around England (I know it's a vague term, but honestly I don't know where we were with more detail) helping the Lead Biochemist, Jonny to pick up materials, appliances, as well as machinery to help support the set-up of the new facility in Bermondsey. I agree not to mention his driving skills. In the final weeks of the build, I helped to disassemble and prepare reclaimed wood and pallet boards which were transformed into desks and furniture for all the new spaces. This is a small but good example of the company's commitment to a more circular economy, practiced across any scale.
Image: Tables and furniture coming together in the new Bermondsey facility, after processing the reclaimed wood
Between learning to work with design software and doing more hands-on work, I have acquired new knowledge and skills and learnt a great deal. I must say though, that the thing that will stick with me more than anything is the kindness and respect of everyone at BIOHM, regardless of your role or position. I was very lucky to have this professional experience in a place with an ambitious yet open-minded and relaxed environment.