It’s not everyday that a rally driver segues into tree surgery. It’s even less likely that this person will be 18 years old and female.
However, for Newtownhamilton woman Letisha Conn it was an obvious move.
Since age seven, Letisha has fed her hunger for adrenaline with all things fast and furious – and to great success. At age 14 she began racing competitively, making history in 2021 as the first girl to take an outright win on a Junior Rally in any UK Junior Rally Championship.
Since then, rallying has remained a staple in Letisha’s life, but she has found a new passion – and it’s perhaps no surprise that this one is also a bit of a boy’s club.
After watching her father Stephen – who is also an ex-rally driver – develop his own tree-surgery business, Letisha decided she wanted in on the action.
Founded four years ago in Hamiltonsbawn, Armagh Tree Surgery has been growing from strength to strength, offering – as Letisha says – “everything and anything” in the way of tree maintenance across County Armagh.
So, how did she convince her father to let her get involved in what is essentially quite a high risk industry?
As it transpires, Motorsport held the answer.
Letisha had been studying a specialised Elite Athlete Motorsports Scholarship with Loughborough College, who then required her to complete a period of work placement. Whilst experience in the field of tree maintenance might not have been quite what they had intended, Letisha said: “they wanted us to build transferable skills, learn real world skills and build strength.
“Here in Northern Ireland there’s not a lot of opportunity for work experience in motorsports itself. No one on our course was able to find work experience in motorsports so we had to find something else that was suitable”, Letisha said.
So, the University passed her request and the rest, as they say, is history.
Letisha has been champing at the bit to get involved, scooping up every second during study leave and any time free time she could find outside of school.
“I like being outside. All day, everyday. I like that it’s so physical. I like to constantly be doing something and everyday is different, it’s always changing”, said Letisha.
Eager to turn the thing she loves into the thing she does – off she went to Cavan to get her tree surgery qualifications. She now possesses certification in tree felling, cross-cutting, tree maintenace and chipping.
On the course, Letisha was overjoyed at the level of responsibility she was afforded, taking great pride in being the only female and the youngest of the bunch.
She said: “The instructor took us out into a forest and basically said, ‘This is how you cut a tree down, go on ahead.’ All the other people in my group were forty-year-old men.”
But that’s exactly the sort of treatment Letisha craves.
At Armagh Tree Surgery Letisha is a fully-fledged member of staff and that doesn’t come with any preferential treatment. It’s a small and close-knit team of three, Letisha, dad Stephen and employee Jack and they work together in harmony.
Since August 2023 Letisha has been paying her dues as a ‘Groundie’. She is now understandably delighted to have graduated into a full time role as Tree Surgeon as of January 2024.
However, her first week of fully qualified work was a baptism of fire – or wind to be precise!
Just one week after gaining her qualifications, Storm Isha battered the county. Letisha’s father Stephen seized the opportunity to put her newly-acquired skills to use.
Together, the pair took chainsaws in hand, packed up the truck and got the fuel ready.
Stephen said: “We were preparing to go out and then we saw a tree down near a church on Armagh I, we hopped into the yolk and went out to open up the road. Then we started getting told there was another tree on down and another tree. We just kept going and went out to Markethill and worked with the police out there to help clear the roadways.”
Unphased, Letisha commented: “There were trees above us swaying as we were trying to clear the roads you didn’t know if another was going to come down. But we got it done.”
Stephen said: “You have to be intelligent. The height is trying to kill you, the saw is trying to kill you, the tree is trying to kill you.”
No doubt, it can be a dangerous occupation but Letisha – who dreams of one day becoming a Climber – keeps her wits about her: “You get to travel all around the world and do big jobs. You have to be so clever and be switched on. You’re responsible for everyone’s life below you too.”
You can ask for a quote or contact Armagh Tree Surgery for more information on their services here.