A free course is on offer to building professionals cast adrift in the recession

Built environment professionals must train to work together now in order to meet the demands of the future. That is the belief of Professor Jeremy Till, dean of the school of architecture and the built environment at Westminster University. He is the driving force behind Build Up, a programme established to help workers who have been made redundant or have had their hours cut because of the recession.

Professor Till believes that the boom did nothing to bring built environment professionals together. “Certain values in design were sidelined,” he says. “People were too busy making money, making so-called iconic architecture, or cheap cruddy architecture, for that matter. The recession is an opportunity to open the industry up to other possibilities.”

He wanted to encourage more multidisciplinary ways of working, and approached the Higher Education Funding Council for England. It awarded £400,000 from the Economic Challenge Investment Fund, which was match-funded by the university, and the programme was developed with the help of the Construction Industry Council and professional bodies such as CIBSE and RIBA.

There will be 1500 places available over the course of the year-long initiative, which is open to architects, engineers, town planners, surveyors, construction professionals, housing professionals and urban designers.

The free programme is divided into three strands. Strand one, called Career Focus, is a one-day introductory workshop which gives participants a chance to set goals, meet their peers and examine where they are in their careers.

Participants can then select up to three modules from a large range of courses in strand two. The courses on offer range from masterplanning and team building to leadership and low-carbon development.

The third strand, called Innovation Collaboration, will see them working on live projects in multidisciplinary teams for 8-10 weeks. The projects, involving local authorities and not-for-profit organisations, will focus on low-carbon and sustainability issues.

Laura Harding, project director for Build Up and no stranger to redundancy herself, says the chief strength of the programme for individual participants is the support it offers in the form of networking. For the built environment sector, it will hopefully help to prevent the significant loss of skills seen in the last recession.

“I’ve been made redundant more times than I care to admit,” Harding says. “The worry is dropping off the map.

“When you lose your job, losing your network is a real danger. Times have changed since the last recession but we can’t assume that everyone is clued up about networks such as LinkedIn.

“Receiving training that can help you to transfer skills and learn new ones is obviously important, but offering people a support network and a platform for discussion can only be a positive.”


Till believes a programme such as this could prevent the construction sector from working in silos. “The industry has definitely had a silo mentality,” he says.

“Part of the problem with building services design is that often those working on the project are so busy with the construction of the building that they do a basic kit-out – just enough for compliance. Engineers perhaps haven’t had enough opportunities to design out the kit. That’s the future.”

While the course is scheduled to run only for a year, Harding hopes it will have a long-term legacy. She speaks passionately about the potential difference it could make to those facing difficulties.

“During the last recession we lost people to bar work. We want to keep them in the sector. While we don’t want recent graduates, we want to be inclusive and give everyone a boost. We’re already talking about what’s working and how to introduce that into the wider university, but my first port of call is to help people having a hard time in the short term.