Feature: Build-it – a programme providing Lambeth’s young with construction skills and confidence

Build-itKatharine Fish talks to some of the people involved in Build-it, a Lambeth youth program.

With the help of volunteer mentors with trade experience the Build-it programme aims to give 1,500 young people in Lambeth the necessary skills and certification to find work in the construction industry. Led by the organisation London Youth (in partnership with Cospa) Build-it was launched back in April thanks to a £1.7m award from The Big Lottery Fund.

Build-it also seeks to engage local youth in the regeneration of their community. Working alongside different partners and support organisations, such as Lambeth Living, the programme has already finished repairs on an impressive ten sites in the Lambeth area in just nine months.

‘For some young people, just showing up is a positive thing’, says Julia Walker, a Delivery Officer with Build-it.

Julia’s team are based in the Tulse Hill Estate, where young people from the program are putting the finishing touches on some much-needed repairs.

‘The residents enjoy what we’re doing to the estate’, 16-year-old Andre says. Andre has been in the program for 2 months. By the end of the December he will have finished his Build-it training and achieved his Multi-Skills Level 1 certification.

‘What I’ve learnt from here is just to focus really,’ he explains. ‘If you wake up in the morning and you have a good mindset for the day, then you’ll get on with what you’ve got to do and you’ll do it well.’

For many in the programme, this is their first form of work experience.

‘The biggest thing you realise is that at school you don’t get taught how to be professional’, explains Julia. However, several participants did not even stay in school long enough to qualify for their GCSEs. Build-it tends to work with those disengaged with education or employment.

Build-it ColourIn addition, some of the beneficiaries even have criminal backgrounds, according to Julia. As such, many young people in the program are at different levels of ‘work ready’, which means more than learning practical construction skills. For many of these participants, issues in their personal life have resulted in a serious lack of confidence and self worth.

‘I think they respond to someone acknowledging the issues that are going on in their life,’ says Julia. ‘Plus it helps them to have somebody explain that in order to find sustainable work, they need to manage their problems and conduct themselves accordingly. It’s really good when we’ve had mentors that have similar backgrounds to them.’

It is these mentoring relationships that are at the heart of Build-it and keep many young people coming back each day. One such person is 19-year-old Lamar, whose favourite thing about the programme is working with the mentors and his new friends. He admits that at first everyone was shy and lacking confidence, but now, he says, ‘it’s like a family here.’

Lamar is looking to expand his trade and get into multi-skilled construction work. Having been with the project for 2 months, he will soon be looking for employment. His experience with Build-it has made him aspire to own his own business and give back to the program.

‘I would like to be a mentor in the future’, he says, ‘to show that no matter what, if you keep trying you can make it.’

But as the youth of today struggle to find employment in a desolate job market, programs like Build-it can only do so much.

‘It’s tough out there for them,’ says John, a regular employee of Mears construction and one of the program’s mentors. ‘Most kids today need to do an apprenticeship before they can get work.’

Evidently, those are hard to come by. And to make matters worse, there are also some employers who hesitate to hire youth from the program.

‘I definitely think there is an anxiety around the young people that we are working with’, says Julia. ‘When it comes to getting paid work, there is definitely a reluctance.’

Unfortunately, these are the kinds of obstacles that can hinder their progress. ‘It’s so complex,’ says Julia. ‘There are some young people who work really hard and you think, “WOW, they’re going to go far” but then it just kind of stops.’

According to Abdullah Mahmood, Communications Support Officer for London Youth, this inconsistency is usually the result of ‘realising all the different barriers they have to face. One of our challenges is making employers aware of those barriers as well.’

There may be roadblocks that lie ahead. But it is clear that these young people have a renewed sense of self-worth and pride in their newfound skills. Build-it hopes that the ‘soft skills’ these youth have learnt will give them the confidence to find work.

In that respect, the programme has already become a resounding success.

‘I went back to my mums the other day’, says Andre finally, with a big smile on his face, ‘and I said, “Mum, I have to re-plaster the ceiling. It looks terrible!”’


  1. Build-it’s impressive work has already caught the eye of us here at Lambeth United Housing Co-operative. They actually contacted us to find out more about our Super Co-op idea for ‘shortlife’ housing co-ops – a solution put forward three times to Lambeth Council without success. The solution would have allowed ‘shortlife’ residents to stay in their homes rather than be evicted, the threat they are currently faced with. Some of those at risk have been in their homes since the 1970s and are in their 70s! Meanwhile, the Super Co-op would have carried out more repairs to ‘shortlife’ homes, where needed, so that they could pass into the social housing stock. On top of that, the new co-op would have co-ordinated repairs to empty homes on Lambeth’s list and mix the expertise of self-reliant ‘shortlifers’ along with that of Build-it and the motivated young people involved in their schemes to bring empty houses back in to use. Sadly Lambeth Council do not want to facilitate this vision and would prefer to pick on OAPs and other vulnerable people instead, and sell off their homes to private developers. What a strange world we live in when a ‘co-operative’ council could be so actively hostile to initiatives that have benefits for long-standing communities but also for the Lambeth community at large.

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