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Meet the students building their skills and affordable homes

Youngsters donned hard hats to work on 50 affordable homes in a £7m Carlisle housing project building skills and boosting job prospects
Teenager Hannah Camm was able to work on a construction site to improve her build-ng skills. Credit: Riverside Housing

Students and apprentices are boosting their building skills, enhancing their job prospects and taking on Britain’s housing crisis in one fell swoop on a new project to deliver affordable homes.

Eight construction students and apprentices were able to work on their construction skills as part of a nine-week placement on the £7 million housing development.

Hannah Camm, 18, laid the bricks on one of the first homes and insisted the practical experience was vital to boost both her career prospects and female representation in the construction industry. 

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Hannah, who has now completed her bricklaying course at Carlisle College, told The Big Issue: “I really liked being on site. Obviously some of the wet, rainy days weren’t the best but apart from that it was good to get some outdoor experience rather than on a little square on my screen.

“I definitely learnt a lot from it and it has given me opportunities to do different courses through that experience. It would have been difficult to do that without this experience.

“I learned how to spread the mortar out and even basic stuff like how to hold a hammer properly. I also learned to wrap up warmer!”

I learned how to spread the mortar out and even basic stuff like how to hold a hammer properly

Teenager Hannah is now working towards a Construction Skills Certification Scheme card and has already secured a heritage building job with Prince’s Foundation in July on heritage building which she will start in the summer.

In the long-term Hannah hopes to put her building skills to use in developing countries as well as boosting female representation in the construction industry.

“I think everyone should have a chance to do what they want to do,” added Hannah.

“It’s important to get this experience. Even just to let people know whether they want to do the job or not, when they try it they may realise ‘Yes I do really like this’ or ‘No, I don’t want to do this’ and that’s important.”

This isn’t just about housing but about training and to give the next generation the skills in construction to shape their careers

The teenagers were given the chance to work on painting and decorating as well as plastering, joinery, plumbing and electrics to develop their skills through the project. The students were handed the opportunity thanks to a team-up between social housing provider Riverside, Carlisle City Council, Esh Construction and Carlisle College

The push to boost skills comes amid warnings from the construction industry of a skill shortage driven by the loss of EU construction workers following Brexit, an ageing workforce and the declining appeal of the industry to youngsters. 

“Employers are looking for skilled people so this work experience has benefitted students to not only gain hands-on training but also develop life skills to boost their employability prospects,” said Matty McLeish, head of faculty at Carlisle College.

Sarah Paton, Riverside’s regional director for the north, added: “This project demonstrates successful joint partnership work by all involved which we can adopt on future developments. This includes the social value aspect, providing hands-on work experience for construction students and apprentices that we hope will help address the skills shortage in the area.”

The work also provides much needed affordable homes for rent. Following years of neglect from successive governments, social rent homes have been in high demand. The Local Government Association recently warned social housing waiting lists are on target to reach two million families during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shelter’s social housing commission has set the UK Government the target of building 3.1 million social homes over the next two decades to meet demand across England.

Carlisle is no exception, according to local MP John Stevenson. He said: “This new development provides new family homes at a time when they are needed most in the area.

“This isn’t just about housing but about training and to give the next generation the skills in construction to shape their careers and provide opportunities.”

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