Q&A with Harold Samuel Research Prize (HSRP) recipient, Dr Katharine van Someren

Posted on: 12 October, 2022

Q&A with Harold Samuel Research Prize (HSRP) recipient, Dr Katharine van Someren

What is the relationship between job and financial insecurity and mental health in the construction workplace? In the lead-up to our 35th Property Awards Event, we spoke with Harold Samuel Research Prize (HSRP) recipient, Dr Katharine van Someren, about her research on UK construction workplace poverty.

Research is a fundamental aspect of university life. It is used by students to gain further understanding for assignments and dissertations, and by academics to explore complex topics that will broaden our understanding of society and the world around us. The Harold Samuels Research Prize (HSRP) is an annual opportunity for those with an interest in the built environment to submit a research proposal on a topic which could offer sector-changing insights.

Dr Katharine van Someren

Dr Katharine van Someren is a physics graduate with a wide array of experience. She has worked as a chartered planning and development surveyor, with private commercial developers and has worked for the FTSE 100 Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT). Katharine has also worked freelance as a project manager and as a UCEM associate tutor, where she tutored and supported students with their MSc projects.

While the subject of workplace poverty and mental health in construction is often in the public eyeKatharine’s research identified a gap in the literature regarding the link between a construction worker’s financial and job insecurity, and mental health.

Speaking to Katharine, it’s very clear that this is a topic close to her heart. Despite having a solid educational background and a very successful career, Katharine discovered how vulnerable she was when she suffered serious illness, worsened by Covid-19. The experience left her acutely aware of how quickly circumstances can change and the implications these changes can have on a person’s mental health and livelihood.

You can access UK construction Workplace Poverty: the impact of financial and job insecurity on mental health on our publications page to learn more about Katharine’s research.

Q&A with Katharine

We had the opportunity to speak with Katharine about her research where we covered themes ranging from workplace poverty to food security, depression and support networks, while also exploring the research process itself.


What were the key findings from your research?

The research explored the themes of workplace poverty, gender, career commitment and food security. Key findings were that 58% felt their values were similar to their colleagues, and that 32% of the male participants self-reported moderate or severe depression. It also showed that 74% of surveyed participants were currently engaged with or had previously received or provided mental health support. This may be surprising and alarming to some, but to me it shows that there is an awareness of the support available and there are conversations being had.

Your report mentioned that, compared to the general UK population, women in the construction industry experienced lower levels of depression. Why do you think this is?

The anecdotal evidence suggests that women are more likely to talk about these issues and are better able to articulate themselves and ask for help. There are many organisations and tools available to help people and these need to be used more widely. This is why it is so important that people start conversations. When there is a concern about an individual’s mental health, a possible route to help is to ask indirect questions on how a person’s work is going. Asking open questions can help someone to do the self-realisation they need to get some support. 

What surprised you the most about your research? Did you find anything that you weren’t expecting?

While it can be seen there tended to be less depression for participants who are financially well, it is surprising that the least financially well person has no depression. That’s why I would really like to do further testing to delve into this.

In terms of your research and for those who aren’t familiar, what was the process like? Were you mostly working alone? Do you get help?

UCEM’s Dr Graeme Larsen and Tharindu Liyanagunawardena really helped me shape the research. I would check in with them every six weeks to discuss progress and talk about the research, the survey, and going through the ethics committee. They also helped me with the process of writing and asked some really critical questions to challenge me – they were brilliant.

Although it’s difficult subject matter to deal with, did you enjoy the process?

I think that’s why people do it – it’s really interesting to deep dive into a subject, to ask important questions, and to gather data.  You never know where you’ll land with it or what you’ll find at the end. I enjoy discovering what came out of it and then trying to do it justice.

What advice would you give to the next recipient of the HSRP? Is there anything you would do differently?

Something to take into consideration is that sometimes the ethics process can take quite a lot longer than you think, so it’s worth bearing that in mind as it’s right at the beginning of the research period.

You mentioned in your report that there are opportunities for further research, what would you be most interested to research further?

So I think future research would have to include the qualitative part. I would like to take the qualitative research and ask those questions around people’s support networks and understand what there is and what access they have to them.


Industry Support

Dr Katharine highlights in the report that the UK construction sector is aware of the requirement for mental health awareness as well as systematic change. The following organisations, as well as other charities, are working towards reducing the silence on topics surrounding mental health:

  • Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB)
  • Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)
  • Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS)

Here are a range of resources to help with the topics discussed in the research.


Support at UCEM

Promoting good mental health and wellbeing is central to UCEM and we have a dedicated team of wellbeing advisors who offer tailored support for a wide range of physical and mental health conditions.

UCEM has also identified mental health as a key strategic priority, which you can read about in our Mental Health Strategy.


UCEM seeks feedback from our students in a number of ways, the Graduate Outcomes Survey provides a lot of insight into the student’s experience and their wellbeing.  In our 2018/2019 surveys, graduates were asked about satisfaction with their life and whether they felt the things they do in their lives were worthwhile.

Satisfied in life Life is worthwhile
When asked how satisfied graduates were with their lives, 84% scored very high, high or medium. When asked if they feel the things they do in their lives were worthwhile, 83% scored very high, high or medium.