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Building Lives to close as long-term funding discussions fail

Award-winning construction training charity Building Lives has put staff on redundancy notice, after it failed to find long-term funding to keep afloat.

It is understood all 16 staff employed by the organisation have been put on redundancy notice as it prepares to close its doors on 30 June.

Managing director Sian Workman told Construction News it was “incredibly sad and frustrating” that the organisation was having to close.

Staff were informed on Friday that they were being put on redundancy notices.

Building Lives had applied for a new tranche of CITB funding, and while that application has not yet been formally rejected, the organisation believes it is unlikely to be successful as it did not meet certain required criteria.

“If you look at the black-and-white terms and conditions it makes sense – but if you look at the bigger picture, that we’re supporting the whole purpose of the CITB, it doesn’t make sense,” Ms Workman said.

The charity was also in discussion with skills minister Nick Boles’ office and the Skills Funding Agency about finding potential funding under exceptional circumstances, but had received no official response before its self-imposed deadline of Friday 27 May.

Building Lives originally drew down CITB levy funding through Lakehouse, having been founded in 2010 by Lakehouse founder Steve Rawlings, but this was later found to be out of scope and was withdrawn.

In 2015, with the organisation threatened with closure, Construction News, the Lighthouse Construction Industry Charity and KPMG launched the #loveLIVES campaign.

The construction industry rallied to raise £400,000 in 50 days to secure funding for the organisation to stay afloat, retain its staff and continue to help young people into construction.

It has trained or engaged with 376 people since the #loveLIVES campaign last year.

Building Lives said the cost for each learner to go through its programme was £4,000, compared with the £165,000 cost to the economy of each young person not in employment, education or training.

The #loveLIVES campaign received support from then mayor of London Boris Johnson, former skills minister Matt Hancock and companies across the construction industry from main contractors to housing associations and recruitment firms.

Of the people currently in training at its Camden academy, it is understood 27 have gained employment in the construction industry, with another 31 learners currently on its careership programme.

At its Sutton academy there are currently 57 learners on its programme. 

After it was formed in 2010 it grew to operate 10 London academies with a workforce of almost 40 people. At its peak, Building Lives was training around 450 young people a year in the basic skills they needed to forge careers on construction sites.

Its partners included Camden Council, Hackney Homes, Haringey Council, Homes Partnership, Sutton Council, Sutton Housing Partnership and Thames Reach.

The organisation is now in discussions with its local partners at each of its four academies to explore options around keeping the centres open and in use for construction training, and to see if any staff can be kept in employment.

“That really does depend on each partner, as they’re all different and have different views on that,” Ms Workman said. “But we want to keep at least the legacy of Building Lives alive.”

CITB statement

Steve Radley, director of policy at CITB, said the organisation had provided “a range of support to Building Lives” since its funding problems started.

He said this included offering ”detailed guidance on how to apply to CITB for levy-payers’ funds” as well as introducing Building Lives to organisations including the Skills Funding Agency.

CITB provided funding to ensure people taking part in Building Lives training in May last year could complete their courses at the same time as the #loveLIVES campaign was running, he said.

“Building Lives’ funding application is currently being reviewed, alongside many other applications, with the decisions being made at the end of this week. We have not indicated to any applicant the potential result.

“We have given a clear outline of our funding criteria, which we agreed with industry through extensive consultation last year.”

He added: “We are not aware of discussions Building Lives has had with local partners to keep the centre open, but if we can provide support for the process we will. ”

Contractors including Keepmoat, Kier, Laing O’Rourke and Sir Robert McAlpine have also been among its supporters.

Construction News recorded a podcast last month about the industry’s desire to keep the organisation afloat as it once again sought funding support.

High-profile industry leaders have been calling for a political rethink to training, as companies battle to encourage young people into the industry amid severe skills shortages.

It is understood there are still organisations exploring options to keep Building Lives afloat in the short term, although Ms Workman said it was “highly unlikely” that an alternative source of funding would be found.

A Lighthouse spokesman said: “The funding we raised last year in the #loveLIVES campaign was always a temporary measure until Building Lives found long-term strategic funding.

“We are disappointed and saddened that this innovative project that has already delivered so many young people into employment in our sector has fallen between the public funding gaps…. there is a real need to rethink policy on this subject.”

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