Building lives in Tower Hamlets

Alex Williamson | 28.03.14

Yesterday we attended the opening of the fantastic new Building Lives Training Academy in Tower Hamlets by the Business Secretary, the Rt Hon Vince Cable MP.

Building Lives is an award-winning Community Interest Company (CIC) and registered Social Enterprise that delivers construction apprenticeships for young people in London.

Also at the launch were around one hundred members of the construction industry and local government, including representatives of the academy-backers Poplar HARCA, Wilmott Dixon, Berkeley Homes and Peabody, in addition to Denise Chevin, author of Nick Raynsford MP and Lord Best's joint report into construction, title No More Lost Generations.

Welcoming everyone to the event, Development Director Sian Workman highlighted the role the construction industry can play in tackling the youth unemployment issue, which costs the UK economy £165,000 over the lifetime of someone currently not in education, employment or training (NEET).

With approximately 182,000 construction jobs needed over the next four years, but only 7,280 construction apprenticeships being completed per year, Ms Workman said it would be "scandalous" to import talent to fulfil this need while we have the clear opportunity to develop it at home. Construction News has also been very vocal on this issue.

For Steve Rawlings, CEO and Founder of Building Lives, the new academy is particularly close to his heart. Steve first trained as an apprentice roofer in Tower Hamlets, and has worked and lived there for much of his life. Youth unemployment and child poverty rates in the borough are some of the highest in the country.

Mr Rawlings said, "Together I hope we can take big steps in reducing unemployment in Tower Hamlets. That would make me very proud", adding: "I'm on a mission. My three year plan is to deliver 1,000 jobs a year."

These are huge ambitions for a small-scale – but rapidly growing – organisation. Building Lives has now opened five academies, with another four planned for the rest of the year and an overarching aim to open an academy in every London borough (33 in total). The apprentices who sign up get hands-on experience in a range of trades, from bricklaying to plastering, from plumbing to joinery. 85% of the young people who complete apprenticeships at Building Lives, and four out of five apprentices find work afterwards.

Addressing the guests, Business Secretary Vince Cable said: "The construction industry has taken a terrible battering. We lost a lot of skilled people. We have to rebuild."

The Business Secretary's support for vocational training is in part inherited from his father, who was a craftsman for Rowntree and then a tutor of trade skills. Since that time, he said, there has been a steady generation-by-generation decline in the value of construction as a career. With core jobs needed on building sites, the Coalition Government is trying to make apprenticeships more relevant to employers, although, as Mr Cable added: "These projects need leadership."

Steve Rawlings and the team at Building Lives are already providing that leadership, and LandAid is helping them. We are investing a grant of £28,740 towards the conversion of an existing Peabody building in Southwark into a Building Lives construction training academy. The building work is scheduled to finish in June 2014, it will be the sixth academy to be set up in London.

Each year the Southwark academy will engage with over 200 unemployed Londoners and provide 50 construction apprenticeships. These apprenticeships will be part of Building Lives' pledge to support the London Evening Standard's Ladder for London campaign, creating a real and lasting future for unemployed young people in the capital.