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18 March 2014

Tuesday 18 March 2014

Last Friday (March 14th) was the first birthday of Build-it, London Youth’s partnership programme which aims to provide opportunities for young people to gain practical work experience and qualifications, as well as the softer skills, networks and confidence to progress into construction careers.

Reflecting on how the year had gone, and talking with the team and partners at the small celebration event held on Lambeth’s Central Hill Estate, my sense was very much that while there remain lots of challenges facing young people, there was plenty for all of us involved in the programme to be proud of.

As an example, as well as the ‘direct outcomes’ of the programme, which has seen over 450 young people take part, with over a third going on to placements, apprenticeships or college, there have been some other very interesting and heartening results.

On Tulse Hill Estate, in another part of Lambeth, where Build-it started and has been running for the whole year, there have apparently been no incidences of young people being involved in anti-social behaviour since the start of this year. This may not all be down to Build-it of course, but seeing the visibility of the young people at work on the estate, their interactions with older residents, workers and mentors and the general feeling of a community pulling together, I can’t help feeling that it has played an important part.

So the first birthday was a real opportunity for us to look at the programme as a whole and think about what we had learned to date. I asked the young people participating on Central Hill what made Build-it different.

Their first answer was food! Every day, the young people on the programme have the shared experience of sitting down and eating a meal together, cooked by and shared with local people, which creates a sense of support and community, way beyond what a traditional induction into a job or employability programme might bring.

And the second answer was friendship; the way that the young people, the local mentors, building contractors and local residents work hard, learn and have fun together makes Build-it a very special programme and gives young people the support and networks to navigate a career.

Many of the young people on Build-it have done other employability programmes. Plenty of them have qualifications. Many have complex needs, which the programme seeks to support them to address. We don’t pretend it is easy. In fact when London Youth and our partners Cospa first had the idea for what would become Build-it, the early responses were that it wouldn’t work. Because young people wouldn’t want to volunteer for free; or older mentors wouldn’t work well alongside them; or simply that construction companies would not want what some saw as the hassle of employing local young people.

Thankfully, the Big Lottery Fund and our friends in Lambeth  shared the same vision and ambition for young people and communities that we did, and Build-it was able to get off the ground.

One year on, as we celebrated Build-it’s first birthday with those partners – the Central Hill Tenants Association, Lambeth Living, Cospa, the contractors Keepmoat, Pinnacle and Mears, Lambeth Council, and a number of local colleges – I’m delighted that we’ve proved all those people wrong. The headlines make good reading:

  • Over 450 young people have now participated in Build-it, with a third going into work, and a third going into college or further training
  • And 95 volunteer mentors have provided 5,300 hours of support
  • And over £100k of in-kind mentor support has been provided by contractors Keepmoat, Mears and Pinnacle

We’re hugely grateful to all of them for backing Build-it but more importantly, backing local young people.

None of this would have been possible though without the brilliant Build-it staff team; James, Winston, John, Julia, Roxi, Claude, Sam, Nadine, Ralph, Ben and Livia. They put their absolute all into this project and making it work for young people.

When working with young people who have faced many frustrations in their search for work, and may still face many challenges in their lives, I feel strongly that there is a need to be cautious about over celebrating success or over claiming impact. But I do feel that with our partners we’ve made a strong start with Build-it, and the young people deserve so much credit for the way they have taken to the programme.

So we’re very excited to be going into the second year clear about the scale of the challenges, but optimistic about the future and our collective capacity to meet them.