Inside London's First All Female Mechanics' Garage: Spanners With Manners

Inside London's First All Female Mechanics' Garage: Spanners With Manners
Mechanics standing in front of Spanners With Manners, London's first all female garage. Pictured Megan Kulcsar, Laura Kennedy holding her dog Tiny, and Siobhan Kennedy holding her dog Ralphy.
Pictured from the left: Megan Kulcsar, Laura, and Siobhan Kennedy, with their two dogs. Image: Paige Kahn

Next to the A406 — cars speeding up and down, spewing the aroma of petrol in their wake — is Spanners With Manners, London's first all-female mechanics' garage.

Two little dogs are barking from the office as the phones continue to ring. Power drills and tools clang against the vehicles strung up on car lifts.

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, working on a car at Spanners With Manners.
Laura Kennedy enjoys the job because "every day is different." Image: Paige Kahn

Laura Kennedy, the garage's founder, says customers were surprised how easily she and her team managed to lift the cars using a hand crank, before acquiring the newer lifts. "We do have muscles, you know!"

Kennedy is a self-made entrepreneur and a pioneer for women in such a male-dominated field. She is also a mother, wife, and dog owner with a deceptively tough exterior.

"Just go for it!" is Kennedy's advice to women starting out their careers.

The inside of the Spanners With Manners Garage, with cars propped up in the background.
The mechanics work on 10 or more cars a day. Image: Paige Kahn

"I just didn't want to be told off"

Kennedy has always loved cars but didn't choose to pursue a career working with them. Not, that is, until her mum got upset with her for losing a job. To get out of trouble, Kennedy told her mum she'd enrolled to study to become a mechanic.

It was a white lie; she enrolled the day after: "I just didn't want to be told off," Kennedy laughs.

But it's a profession she's stuck with ever since.

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, holding one of her tools at Spanners With Manners.
The garage offers bodywork, servicing, welding, and more. Image: Paige Kahn

"It just sort of made itself"

Kennedy was the first female to take the mechanics course at her college, and had never encountered another female mechanic before establishing Spanners With Manners.

So how did it all come about? "It just sort of made itself," says Kennedy, who set up the business in a garage down the road from where she grew up, in Finchley — aged just 22.

There was no big idea, she insists. When the garage's previous owner retired, he invited Kennedy to take over the business and put her stamp on it. "Other female mechanics sought me out," says Kennedy.

Now, at 39, she says being her own boss is "fantastic." She is proud of the dynamic with her coworkers and doesn't just see herself as their boss. "Everyone is just on the same level," she says.

The team even gets together for karaoke nights.

Megan Kulcsar, apprentice at Spanners With Manners, working underneath a van.
Megan Kulcsar, an apprentice, works underneath one of the vehicles. Image: Paige Kahn

Kennedy believes that Spanners With Manners has unintentionally helped to challenge the stigma of female engineers; she gets positive messages from people worldwide. This still seems to surprise her.

"People are just like 'what you do is amazing'," she says. "To me it's just a day-to-day, but people really do respond to it great."

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, working on a raised vehicle at Spanners With Manners.
Kennedy has been a working mechanic for 17 years. Image: Paige Kahn

"People don't expect to walk in and actually see girls that take care of themselves!"

Kennedy works alongside her wife, Siobhan, formerly a hairstylist, and now running things behind the scenes.

"I think people are quite surprised how we look," says Kennedy. "People don't expect to walk in and actually see girls that take care of themselves!"

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, holds a coffe mug as her two dogs run through the garage at Spanners with Manners.
The Kennedys' pups are the smallest guard dogs you'll likely find in a garage, and one is even called Tiny. Image: Paige Kahn

Kennedy often brings her 8-year-old daughter to work with her, too. "She has her own little set of overalls, she loves it."

Will she take over the family business one day? Kennedy isn't so sure: "Once she realises she's got dirt on her, she'll be like, 'all right, that's enough!'"

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, holding her dog Tiny outside Spanners With Manners.
Kennedy grew up just down the road from the garage. Image: Paige Kahn

"We genuinely welcome everyone as themselves"

Going to a garage can sometimes feel daunting, and many of the Spanners With Manners customers say how much more comfortable they feel coming to a place with all-female mechanics — especially the women bringing in their cars.

But everyone is welcome. One of the Spanners With Manners mottos is 'come as you are'. "We genuinely welcome everyone as themselves," says Kennedy.

Mechanic tools in a box at Spanners With Manners.
Kennedy once thought about quitting the job to become a firewoman but decided she's a better mechanic. Image: Paige Kahn

Has Kennedy ever felt challenged working in a male-dominated business? "I used to when I was training, but then the better you get at your job, the more knowledge you pick up.

"Then that kind of irritates them even more!"

Laura Kennedy, mechanic, fixing a raised vehicle at Spanners With Manners.
The garage's previous owner invited Laura Kennedy to take over the business after he retired. Image: Paige Kahn

Spanners With Manners, Finchley

Last Updated 13 September 2022

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