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Barbara Weiss hits back over paid-for internship Twitter furore

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Barbara Weiss has defended an online charity auction for a week-long internship at her practice following uproar on the internet

The founder of London-based studio Barbara Weiss Architects (BWA)was responding to Twitter commentators who claimed the listing was ‘brazen’ and ‘unbelievable’.

Weiss said any suggestion the company was benefitting from charging for 16 year-olds’ work experience was both ‘absurd and highly offensive’

The offer was listed alongside acupuncture sessions and drinks party catering in an online fundraising auction for fee paying Westminster School aimed at raising money for capital projects and bursaries.

The listing read: ‘The lucky winner will participate in a wide variety of meetings (e.g. internal design team meetings, client meetings, technical team discussions, meetings with other consultants such as engineers) and will almost certainly visit one or more construction sites.

‘The intern will be asked to perform simple tasks (e.g. research into materials and fittings, measuring and surveying and model making/design) and will leave with a much clearer idea as to what is involved in working in a medium-sized architectural practice.’

Former RIBA president Ruth Reed took to Twitter to attack the ‘internship’, describing the offer as ‘privilege gone mad’, as did current institute premier Angela Brady said: ‘No one should have to PAY to WORK even for a day or week! Students need all the money and support they can get.’

In a written response to Brady seen by the AJ, Weiss said: ‘[Barbara Weiss Architects] BWA has been offering free work experience to school children from every possible school for many years now, particularly to children from State schools

She added: ‘Hosting work experience kids does not in any way benefit BWA:  it is, on the contrary, hugely time-consuming and expensive, and a major responsibility. It is only undertaken out of a sense of “giving back” to society

She continued: ‘It is absurd and highly offensive that rumours are being spread that BWA is benefitting in any way from offering a week of work experience to a 16 year-old through a school charity auction, when the truth is exactly the opposite. We stand proud of our track record. The RIBA should be encouraging other practices to engage with schools at the same level as BWA does rather than spreading untruths.’

Brady has since said sorry for her Twitter outburst. The RIBA president posted a Tweet this morning which said: ‘Sincere apologies to BWA - it was not clear her word “intern” referred to ‘work experience’. In fact her practice has [an] exemplary record’.

The current bid for the position is £100.

Westminster Schools has issued the following statement about the auction:

There has recently been some discussion regarding the offering of work experience in our fundraising auction.  The auction was designed by our fundraising volunteers to assist in supporting both our capital building projects as well as the Westminster Bursary Programme.  The auction also provided us with a valuable opportunity to mobilise the extended Westminster Community and to include those who might have felt that they could not play a valuable part in our fundraising efforts simply because they were unable to make a large financial contribution.  There are 108 lots on offer, of which work placements make up 21, with others ranging from knitting lessons to a week in a luxury holiday home in Uruguay.  All were contributed by individuals with a Westminster connection (parents, former parents, alumni, etc.). 

The option of including work placements was raised early on by our donors, and in the end it was felt that as this had for some years been a common practice by other organisations and as the places offered would be in addition to, and not in place of, existing positions, we would go ahead.  Each work placement donor was asked if they would be willing to provide 2 places - one to be auctioned and one for the School to pass along to a pupil at one of our partner state schools - and some have chosen to do so. While these places have been created solely for the auction, we are hopeful that the businesses will be inspired to maintain these new positions and will openly recruit for candidates going forward.

Westminster School is committed to social mobility and has a needs blind admissions policy. In order to achieve this it is necessary for us to raise in excess of £1.2 million each year to fund our bursary places. This money is raised through donations from individuals, corporate sponsors and one off fund raising events such as this auction.

Westminster’s commitment to social mobility does of course go beyond our own bursary programme.  We work in conjunction with local state schools and were recently very pleased to announce the establishment of the Harris Westminster Sixth Form Academy, which has been designed to assist talented pupils from across London to develop their academic focus, to apply for places on the best university courses, and gain entrance to top universities.

Westminster will continue to look at ways of genuinely addressing the issue of social mobility, both by opening our doors to disadvantaged pupils and by offering our expertise more widely than our own precincts.






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