Build UK scheme invites public behind the hoardings of UK building sites

Pupils from two Midlands colleges were given their first taste of construction this week as Build UK launched this year’s Open Doors initiative by showing the teenagers around HS2’s huge tunnelling site in Long Itchington Wood.

The Open Doors scheme, now in its tenth year, invited members of the public, including school leavers, to visit building sites across the UK and see the range of construction careers available.

Students on the viewing platform at Long Itchington Wood Tunnel

Source: HS2

Neil Johnson, tunnels delivery director for Balfour Beatty Vinci, shows students the Long Itchington Wood tunnelling site

Build UK, which is delivering the programme, launched Open Doors 2023 on Wednesday, inviting more than 25 young people from Walsall and Warwickshire colleges to see ‘Dorothy’, a 2,000-tonne tunnel boring machine (TBM) currently being prepared for re-launch.

Dorothy has already completed its mile-long dig under the ancient woodland and is being powered up to set off for its second bore later this month.

The teens heard from Neil Johnson, tunnels delivery director for Balfour Beatty Vinci, the joint venture responsible for this section of the route, and Doug Barnett, HS2’s senior project manager for the area.

Millie Clohessy, a Walsall College pupil doing a T-level in design, planning and surveying for construction, said she was staggered by “how tiny the people were” in comparison with the 125m-long TBM and was interested to learn about the environmental considerations that have to be made by contractors, saying it made the job more appealing for young people.

“I didn’t realise how aware [contractors] were of the environment,” she said. “I was speaking to a lady from the environmental team who deals with waste, and I did not realise that was one of their main priorities.”

Clohessy said she wanted to go into architecture when she began her course but has since decided she does not want to go to university and wants to pursue a civil engineering career.

But she was not so sure tunnelling was for her, admitting: “I don’t think I would enjoy being underground for 12 hours.”

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Suzannah Nichol MBE, chief executive of Build UK, also spoke to the young people and said the scheme offered an experience they would not usually get.

“The on-site visits just capture the magic,” she said. “You look at the TBM out there and it is like a spaceship.”

She added: “Reading a job description on a website is one thing but there is nothing like seeing a busy construction site in action or a new building close to completion.

“If we can get people to come onto site, they can hear it, they can smell it, they can feel it and they talk to people in the industry.

“So many people in construction just love working in construction that when students hear that first hand it helps them to see the different careers available and it opens up their eyes as to what it can do for them.”

Open Doors will run for a week from 13 March next year and will mark a return to a fully in-person programme after a hybrid online/in-person programme featuring hundreds of sites was run last year.

More than 10 sites have already been registered for this year and new sites will continue to be added until the end of February.

Any groups or individuals can book a site visit from 9 January 2023, although some site visits are limited by security concerns and large groups are advised to make contact early through the website.

Open Doors is being delivered in partnership with Construction Industry Training Board, the Considerate Constructors Scheme, Construction Skills Certification Scheme, Go Construct, HS2, Skylapse Media, the Careers and Enterprise Company and the Department for Work and Pensions. Building is the media partner for Open Doors.