Gordon Wordsworth, general manager of Sheffield Rebuild, tells Graeme Demianyk why he decided to prioritise social duty over profit-making
Sheffield Rebuild is a contractor with a difference. Backed by the local council, the company offers jobs and training to long-term unemployed and socially excluded young people. The good Samaritan behind the scheme is Gordon Wordsworth, 49, who sacrificed the increasing profits of his own successful business to give something back to society.

What inspired Sheffield Rebuild?
A long-standing social conscience. I feel that, in the last 10 to 15 years, training has stopped serving the needs of the industry. I wanted to get back to the apprenticeship idea and give young people experience on building sites.

What were the early stages like?
Quite difficult. I'd been chipping away for the last 20 years in community-based projects, but it was all very ad hoc. The first contract we got was with Sheffield council, but housing association North British gave us a contract for the refurbishment of 20 houses, which kicked it off.

What have been the achievements of Rebuild?
They've been twofold. First, we've taken disadvantaged people and brought them into work. Moreover, we've created and run a company that can achieve a social good rather than just shareholder profit – some of the guys we've had have gone on to be project managers. Second, the projects we've done have been excellent. That first contract with North British was a major achievement.

You gave up your own successful business to start Rebuild. Did you see it as a risk?
Rather than a risk, it was something I wanted to do. In a commercial framework we were in a building boom, so I could have made a significant profit. But instead, I chose to do something worthwhile.

It’s about seeing the potential and saying to people they can go anywhere they want

Would this project benefit other cities?
Definitely. The problem with most councils is that they don't think outside the box. There are a few innovators, but not many. That's what I would like to foster in other places.

Is there anyone in particular you were proud of giving an opportunity to?
There's been quite a few. One of the guys from the very beginning was on the streets and some people warned us not to take him on. He's now got NVQ level three and does voluntary work.

How supportive has the council been?
They've been crucial. We started with no cash but the council helped us negotiate tender agreements and allowed continuity for the first few years. We're now part of the council's annual budget because we can fulfil social inclusion policies at very little cost.