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Achieving outstanding local social value through Building Lives academies

Building Lives Academy Eastbourne Grounds Prep Team Photo


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In this latest blog, Martine Corbett, apprentice and management trainee manager at Willmott Dixon shares the importance of their Building Lives programme and the successful outcomes the team has delivered.

In December 2020, the first cohort graduated from our Building Lives academy at our Bedfordwell Road project.

Procured through the SCAPE Construction framework and containing 40% affordable housing, our London and South local construction office are delivering a 22 dwelling development at Bedfordwell Road in Eastbourne. As part of the team’s local social value commitment, a Willmott Dixon Building Lives academy was setup to help local people gain skills within the construction industry.

This is our fourth Building Lives Academy, having created our first one in 2018 in Croydon as we delivered the New Addington Leisure Centre. The academies have been created to support local people who are out of work to gain vital skills in the construction industry. Through our work at New Addington, we created £1.5m of local social value while delivering the much-needed leisure facility.

Working in collaboration with East Sussex College and Eastbourne Borough Council, the course at Bedfordwell Road Building Lives Academy lasts between 4-6 weeks and upon graduation, students will gain Construction Skills Level 1, Health and Safety Level 1 and their Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card.

We took on our first cohort of 10 in the Autumn of 2020. We are usually able to provide a far greater number of places, however we had limited space given the need for social distancing and COVID safe working practice. As well as gaining vital industry skills, the courses have been designed to help the students develop their interpersonal skills, improving self-esteem and confidence.

In order to make the Building Lives Academy work, we have worked closely with our supply chain partners. As well as an overview of Willmott Dixon, course content has included showcasing the variety of roles in construction, mock interview experience, behaviours, sustainability, as well as the importance of inclusion and diversity.

Building Lives Academy Eastbourne Class Cohort 1

A successful outcome

We have been grateful for support from construction recruitment partner Falcon Green, who helped lead the mock interview process. Through their involvement, we have seen Grace, one of our graduates gain paid work at one of our sites.

Grace Collett joined the programme and was completely taken aback to learn of Willmott Dixon's approach to diversity and sustainability. Having previously worked in the arts, the course transformed Grace’s perception of construction. We invited her to meet Conor Cooney, from Falcon Green, who is heavily involved in the running of the academy. Impressed by her ambition and enthusiasm to develop, Conor has offered to sponsor Grace, and we have now secured her a two-month paid placement on a project with Willmott Dixon Interiors at their East Sussex Healthcare project, which she started in January.

We are delighted with the outcome and we wish Grace lots of luck as she embarks on her placement, her journey is a wonderful example of how by working corroboratively with our colleagues and partners, our Building Lives Academies really can enhance opportunities, change perceptions and build lives.

Martine Corbett

Apprentice and management trainee manager

Upon completion, Grace commented:

“The Building Lives work based course encouraged me, supported me and completely changed my life. I was on Universal Credit at the time, had an acting degree that I couldn't really use and had been miserable for months. I got a notification about the Construction Course through Universal Credit and decided it was an opportunity I couldn't turn down!

I had never used a drill in my life (or a saw for that matter) but a big part of the course was learning carpentry skills - in the 4 weeks on the course, I became confident with the tools, learned invaluable techniques and produced a final piece that I am still incredibly proud of!

During the course and having met Martine, Caitlyn and Connor on the first day and in the mock interview my perception of construction went from ‘oh it's just men in hard hats’ to ‘WOW! They want more women involved!’ Ah! Amazing, this is so refreshing and good to know - why hasn't anyone told me about this before!"

Grace Collett

Building Lives Academy Graduate

It was wonderful learning about Willmott Dixon's goal to have an equal split of men and women working for the company, the fact that they'd been carbon neutral since 2012 and were hot on inclusion, diversity and sustainability. In addition, it was wonderful to see that Willmott Dixon team simply loved the work they do and really inspired me to do the same."

Our Now or Never 2030 Sustainability strategy in action

Our Building Lives academies form a key part the Building Lives strand of our 2030 Now or Never Sustainability Strategy. Within the strategy, we have pledged over the next decade to help 1,000 people facing significant barriers to the workplace, we have also committed to help 100 disadvantaged young people into careers with Willmott Dixon.

In the Autumn of 2020, Armin Behbin became our first of our one hundred. Having had to leave home at 16, thanks to his determination and the outstanding efforts of one of our social value managers, Armin received over 90 hours of tutoring and two work placements with Willmott Dixon. To his merit, he graduated onto our management trainee scheme and is working as a HR specialist management trainee with our sister company Fortem. Read Armin’s inspiring story here.

Martine Corbett

Written by:

Martine Corbett
Apprentice and management trainee manager, Willmott Dixon