North East residents are being given the chance to learn new talents and even start a career in construction, rail engineering, or landscaping – thanks to a transformational project, part-funded by the North of Tyne Combined Authority (NTCA) and part funded by the European Social Fund.

BuildNE offers local people free courses in subjects including home maintenance, gardening, and even specialist skills such as building drystone walls. Bespoke courses for women – such as Women’s DIY and Women in Construction – are also available.

The training is delivered by Gateshead College and is targeted towards residents of Newcastle, North Tyneside, and Northumberland who are unemployed, work fewer than 16 hours a week, or are on a ‘zero hours’ contracts. Several recent learners have been refugees from the ongoing war in Ukraine.

Image shows a White middle aged man hunched over a work table sawing a piece of wood. In the foreground, an instructor watches him. Both men are wearing high vis jackets.

Course instructor Andy (R) keeps a watchful eye over the Mayor’s sawing technique

For many participants, the hands-on sessions are a crucial stepping stone to returning to employment or beginning a new career – providing learners with the qualifications they need to work on a building site, for example. Others guarantee them a work placement with a respected employer.

It is hoped that the project will help to bridge the existing skills gap – between employers’ needs and potential recruits’ abilities – especially within the UK’s fast-growing construction sector.

The training is also offered to older residents, supporting them to learn new skills for use at home or work, make friends, and stay active in later life. Project managers have seen a real impact on the self-esteem of members of this age group, who often lack confidence. “In some cases, it’s been life-changing”, said Merika Hagley from BuildNE.

The elected Metro Mayor for the North of Tyne, Jamie Driscoll, recently visited Briardale House in Blyth to see the project in action and he got stuck in with their gardening skills course, under the watchful eye of instructor Andy.

It was there he met Pat and Gillian, who were busy building planter boxes – power drills in hand. The scheme has given them an opportunity to get out of the house, meet people, and boost their confidence. “I’ve always wanted to do something like this. We weren’t allowed when we were at school”, said Pat, from Ashington.

Image shows two retired age White women laughing together. The women are wearing high vis jackets. The one on the left is holding a power drill. They are making planter boxes

Pat (L) and Gillian (R), making planter boxes – “We have a laugh”

“We have a laugh…”, she continued. “You never know”, said Gillian, from Ellington. “We might be teachers [here], one day.” “We’d be fired in the first week!”, Pat shot back, laughing. The two women didn’t know each other before the course, but now seemed like close friends. “We just gelled”, Gillian said, smiling.

Mayor Driscoll said: “Projects like this do enormous good in our communities. Helping people find meaningful work. Giving them a jumpstart into a new career. Boosting people’s confidence in their own skills and abilities.

“Fostering friendships and combatting loneliness. It’s fantastic to see. I’m glad our funding is making a real difference to people’s lives.”

Image shows a white middle aged man speaking to two younger women. All are wearing high vis jackets. The women are building a planter box.

Learners give the Mayor a lesson on mitre joints

BuildNE is delivered by Gateshead College and funded by NTCA and the ESF. Director, Steve Logan, described the money provided by the Combined Authority as “hugely invaluable to everyone involved”. “It wouldn’t have been possible to run these projects with just our core funding”, he added.