As National Apprenticeship Week, 6th to 10th February, is launched, the flying start apprenticeships give young people’s careers is evident at the Dee Park estate in Reading. Dee Park is undergoing a major regeneration, led by Dee Park Partnership (DPP), a joint venture between Willmott Dixon and Catalyst Housing in partnership with Reading Borough Council.

With high levels of unemployment amongst young people in the area, DPP is taking steps to help them into work and local young people have been employed as apprentices on the construction site. The apprentices include Shannon Kelly, 18; Daniel Jerrom, 18 and Wesley Petterson, 21. Each is specialising in a different trade and benefits from on the job training, combined with day release at college to back their practical skills with recognised qualifications.

Studying plumbing at Reading College and working part-time in a shop, Shannon was struggling to find an apprenticeship: “It’s really hard, I spent months calling plumbing companies but got nothing,” she says. After being accepted as an apprentice with Willmott Dixon, she is well on the way to becoming a qualified plumber. She comments: “I’m learning loads at work, my supervisor is really good and everyone is always willing to help me. I’m the only girl on site at the moment, but I would definitely encourage more girls to go into trades and the building business.”

Daniel had trained as a mechanic on part time release from school and hoped to get an apprenticeship, but it never materialised and he spent months without any work. He discovered a love of carpentry through working with a neighbour and leapt at the chance to become a carpentry apprentice at Dee Park. Daniel says: “I can see myself doing this in the long run. Work experience was quite basic, but now I’m doing a lot of precision work. I love seeing the end product.”

Wesley had been working as a school assistant ‘to keep busy’, while looking for a job. A few years ago he had taken a six-month construction course, where he’d excelled at bricklaying, but had never taken it further until the chance came up to work as an apprentice bricklayer at Dee Park. Wesley says: “I’ve really found my calling. At college they say I’m a natural at bricklaying and the apprenticeship has given me the chance to start my career and get all the training I need.”

Willmott Dixon’s partner in DPP, Catalyst Housing, is helping people at Dee Park find work by running a job club for 16 to 24 year olds as well as a general job club for all ages. It is also working with New Directions, Reading Borough Council’s Learning and Employment service, to help local people obtain Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) cards, which are increasingly required as a test of competence before being accepted for a job on a building site.

Andrew Sinclair, Project Director for Dee Park Partnership, says: “We have always worked closely with the community at Dee Park in developing plans for the regeneration and it is natural that we should give support in other ways too. As a policy, we always try to employ local people on our construction projects whenever possible and it is very satisfying for everyone that they can play a part in improving their own community.”

Councillor Jo Lovelock, chair of the Dee Park Board and leader of Reading Borough Council, says: “In these days of high youth unemployment it is essential that local schemes like the Dee Park regeneration should offer opportunities for young people and I am really pleased with the commitment shown by Willmott Dixon and Catalyst in providing apprenticeships and other valuable initiatives.”

The eight-year project to regenerate Dee Park is well underway. In the first phase of the project, Dee Park Partnership is providing 261 homes, both private housing and homes for social rent, and a new Extra Care facility for the elderly. Reading Borough Council has recently approved plans for the next phase, which will provide a further 106 homes. Private apartments and houses currently for sale are priced from £159,950 for a two-bedroom apartment. Contact the Dee Park Marketing Suite on 0118 953 8772.