‘Secret Millions’ TV show allows youngsters to tackle Lambeth’s housing crisis

Official photo for Secret Millions

1500 young people in Lambeth will take part in an ongoing London Youth charity project to restore 40 of the borough’s derelict properties into social housing after being featured on the pilot episode of Channel 4’s The Secret Millions television series.

A collaboration between the Big Lottery Fund and Channel 4 the show aims to find new ways to tackle Britain’s social issues. Supported by Restoration Man George Clarke, London Youth’s project -where they refurbished a house in Brixton- was the first to feature in the new television series, which aired on March 17. As part of the show individual projects are secretly assessed and if deemed successful awarded funds from the £10 million funding pot, the largest amount ever distributed on a Channel 4 series.

The London Youth charity has secured £1.7 million to facilitate a skills sharing project that will see retired tradesmen from Lambeth volunteering to teach local young people trade skills to renovate the abandoned houses, making them available for people on the housing waiting list.

“We basically want to show that if you invest in young people, they can invest back,” said Chief Executive of London Youth Rosie Ferguson. “Lambeth is seen to have so many challenges for young people but we’re aiming to make them part of the solution.”

Along with battling the borough’s social issues, the project is setting out to tackle its housing crisis. Figures provided by London Youth showed Lambeth has a total of 4029 derelict properties, 219 of them council owned. However a spokesperson from Lambeth council could not provide official figures, saying it’s difficult to define abandoned properties as investors often purchase real estate purely for investment purposes, which remain empty until they go back on the market. There are currently approximately 18,000 households on the borough’s housing waiting list, with priority for housing determined by need rather than waiting time, the council spokesperson said.

The other main goals of the project is to upskill young people by utilising existing knowledge in the trade industries, Ms Ferguson said. “The passing on of knowledge is vital; so many tradespeople find it very difficult to find apprentices so that technical skill sharing is really beneficial for young people and the industry itself,” she said. The second, equally important issue is breaking down inter-generational barriers.

“It goes far beyond just the skills. When these young people are working with the retired tradespeople on a building site you see this almost paternal relationships forming, it’s about teaching them to be their own person,” Ms Ferguson said.

1500 young people from Lambeth will be selected to take part in the upcoming projects. “Some will be students from Lambeth Construction College who are struggling to get experience, some will be not working or not in school; it will be a real mixture,” Ms Ferguson said. As part of the training the youths can gain units that could potentially be used towards gaining a trade qualification. 400 local tradespeople from Lambeth will be integral to the project, volunteering their time and knowledge to convert the properties, she continued.

A number of the mentors and youths involved in the pilot have gone on to become ambassadors for the project. “It’s really been life changing particularly for the young people,” Ms Ferguson said.

Eighteen year-old Rachel Penfold from Streatham was one of the young people featured in the pilot scheme upon her youth worker’s recommendation. Now studying carpentry at Stratford Building Craft College she describes her experience on the project as “amazing.” “It was great overall; I’ve never worked so hard in my life. At the beginning the contractors said they’d never seen a building that bad but we just got stuck into it and pretty much practised every trade,” she said.
After first leaving school Rachel started a hairdressing apprenticeship, which she “absolutely hated.” Although interested in woodwork at school she hadn’t considered it as a career until last year when she took up a ten-week mixed trade course –mainly focusing on plumbing and carpentry. Off the back of this she was offered the opportunity to take part in the program.

“I wanted to get involved because the course I started didn’t offer enough practical experience and at times it became quite boring just learning in the class,” she said. “I wanted to be motivated and keep myself busy but also know how a real job would work and how it would feel working onsite. I learned more in ten days than I did in ten weeks at school.”

Rachel now volunteers at Wandsworth youth club Furzedown Centre and is currently fundraising for a trip to Swaziland, where she will spend six weeks this August with the Positive Women charity as part of the Tools4Life team teaching carpentry skills to local women. “The team that I will be part of will help ten Swazi women learn new skills in carpentry which they can then pass on to others and use to earn a living,” Rachel said.

Click here to sponsor Rachel.

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