Interview with Wendy Heller

A couple of weeks ago Mark Parker from I Live in SE16 popped over to our construction training centre in Bermondsey to have a look around and interview our amazing Training, Development and Curriculum Manager Wendy Heller. You can read the full interview below:

“It was really my mum being ripped off that got me into construction,” says Wendy Heller of Construction Youth Trust. “I was furious when I found she had paid out £50 to get a simple dripping tap fixed. That was her income for the week gone. I decided there and then to be able to do those everyday jobs myself. I went out and took a course with Women’s Education in Building (WEB), a charity that trains women for jobs in construction.” After a year with WEB, Wendy went on to a year with Hammersmith Building Faculty and a further year with the Peabody Trust. Since then Wendy’s career as a carpenter has spanned 23 years working for herself, building scenery at Pinewood and for MTV as well as learning to craft furniture.

I visited Wendy at the Trust’s Training Centre in Drummond Road SE16 where she is the Training, Development and Curriculum Manager. Now she teaches carpentry, brick-laying, plastering and dry-lining to successive cohorts of young people. “The great thing is that trades such as bricklaying can be used in so many ways. It’s not just about labouring on building sites but can be a spur to many different careers. Our aim is to help each young person who comes to us to fulfil their goals by getting an accredited qualification, a level 1 award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment. This allows them to undertake an online CITB test for the Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) and so get a green CSCS card. That’s a vital necessity to get any labouring job.”

“…We focus on attendance, punctuality and respect for each other; they have to work as a team and make a commitment to progressing beyond the course…”

Learning and legacy

The courses Wendy runs last nine days, Monday to Wednesday for three weeks. The students are all 16-30 years old and many are care leavers, ex-offenders, homeless or long-term unemployed. The classes are small with a maximum of 12 places in each. Each day, the students have 90 minutes learning for their test and the rest of the day learning practical skills. Wendy takes them through unique projects in which the students learn step-by-step from careful instructions. The resulting creations are often made to order and given away to local charities such as Bede House and Surrey Docks Farm. But on each of the pieces Wendy makes sure she attaches a plaque giving the name of the student who made it. “I love the sense of leaving a legacy for our alumni to recall when they visit those places in future,’ says Wendy.

“…We are always keen to receive donations of tools, materials or equipment; donations allow us to use the limited funds we have to focus on our students’ development…”

#NotJustForBoys

“We recruit students for our courses from many places,” explained Wendy. “We’ve good links with the Job Centres and the Youth Offending Teams. Some homeless charities will refer young people to us and we also see some students come to us through Pupil Referral Units. Our goal is to motivate each of our students to take another step in their career. We want each to grow in self-confidence and be able to offer themselves for work or further study. We focus on attendance, punctuality and respect for each other; they have to work as a team and make a commitment to progressing beyond the course. We commit to work with them for as long as it takes. For some that’s just the course and they get on fine; for others, we need to support them for some time. We arrange work placements for our students to give them a sense of the reality of the work environment and provide plenty of one-to-one coaching.”

Changing Lives

On the week I visited, the whole centre was in turmoil. The Centre was the focus for the Changing Lives project with the trainees of Willmott Dixon Interiors (WDI). Wendy introduced me to Jack Gunning (pictured centre) who runs the project for WDI. “As part of our community investment, we offer ten trainees a week’s accredited training in key skills for the construction industry,” explained Jack. “This year, that first week is followed by a further week where the candidates are paired with a management trainee whilst we’ve been refurbishing the whole Construction Youth Trust’s training centre.” “It’s just amazing,” commented Wendy. “They’ve transformed a tired and patched up building into one that completely fits our needs. We are immensely thankful to WDI for their help and assistance.”

“…The great thing is that trades such as bricklaying can be used in so many ways. It’s not just about labouring on building sites but can be a spur to many different careers…”

Making a contribution

Wendy was keen to suggest ways for organisations and residents to help out. “We are always looking for young people with a thirst to find a career in construction. If you know potential students, please point them in our direction. We are also on the look out for work experience providers: organisations in any field who are well-organised and can offer our students three or four different work environments during their placement. Get in touch and we can discuss the possibilities. We are always keen to receive donations of tools, materials or equipment; donations allow us to use the limited funds we have to focus on our students’ development. And then you might want to sponsor one of our courses. We get through two courses each month so creating even more chances for students to achieve their very best is our goal.”

 

Original article on I Live in SE16.