Why 10 families from Brixton needed to address their own skills shortage - very quickly





People choose to apply for courses in construction skills for various reasons - they may have parents in the industry, for example, or it may be the hands-on aspect of trade skills that appeals. Or they may have bravely agreed to build their own housing association homes and are frantically learning the skills to embark on the scheme in just a few weeks' time.

This is the reason that members of 10 families from south London find themselves on a new course in assisted part-build at the Springboard Bromley training centre in Greater London.

In collaboration with contractor Higgins Construction and Presentation Housing Association, they are building one four-bedroom and nine three-bedroom homes on the last plot of land in the £67m regeneration of the Angell Town area of Brixton. The tenants, who came together as a group two years ago, saw the unusual approach as the best way to secure adequate housing for their families in this notoriously poverty-stricken area.

Higgins is on the verge of completing work on the structures of the homes, which leaves the tenants to play at being project managers and subcontractors on the second-fixing phase. Julia Daschke (above right) will move into one of the homes with her husband and two small daughters. She says: "We have been heavily involved in every stage of the project, but once we move into the second phase, we take charge of the budget, do all the ordering and choosing of materials. We will be doing it all - painting and decorating, fitting bathrooms and kitchens."

The Springboard course, which is being funded by Higgins in collaboration with training charity CSV, is a break from the normal City & Guilds courses for the Bromley facility. Blake Eardley, who is running the part-build course, says:

"It's a multiskilled short course that deals with all the second-fixing skills - such as skirtings, architraves, door hanging and tiling."

It also provides knock-on benefits for the centre's other students. Eardley says: "In a few weeks' time we'll take the training down to the site, and I'll take a few of my trainee carpenters with me. It will all go towards their coursework."

Eardley is well aware that training beginners in such a short space of time is a tall order, but the wider value of the scheme is already being felt. The Community Self Build Agency states that one of the aims of such projects is for "individuals to acquire confidence, skills and a sense of achievement with which to face the future". Daschke certainly believes this to be the case at Angell Town, pointing out that many of the members of the group now have invaluable experience with which to proceed with careers in construction. She says: "Karen Foster [above left], for example, has been the group's secretary from the start, liaising with architect Mode One and consultant Nicholas Taylor, and has basically project managed a 10-home residential scheme. You need experience to get started in any field."