Nestled in the rolling Chiltern hills in the centre of High Wycombe there is a skills centre for young people where they grow in confidence, learn the building trade and leave ready for work. The centre is the beating heart of the not-for-profit training arm of New Meaning. Some of the graduates go on to be employed by the construction arm of the organisation, while others find employment as carpenters, builders and decorators, working with local employers who recognise the calibre of their training.  

A better life

New Meaning, co-founded by David Lett and John Evans, is a multifaceted organisation with a unifying purpose of helping people to construct a better life for themselves. Since its story began in 2006 the pair have been the driving force behind New Meaning Construction, New Meaning Training and New Meaning Foundation. Together they are building strengths, building lives and building futures. 

Some 200 young people join one of three programmes run by New Meaning each year, having been referred by secondary schools, pupil referral units and Special Education Needs settings. Founded on the principle of ‘helping others find their meaning’, the organisation started life not as a construction skills trainer, but as an in-schools programme to develop proactive life skills.  

Co-founder David Lett, explains, “New Meaning is all about someone’s purpose in life and helping them identify that so they can reach their full potential. We found that lots of the young people we were supporting in the early days in schools learnt best through physical activities: they are kinaesthetic learners. We needed to find a way for them to learn in context and through practical activities.” 

David and fellow founder John Evans considered how best to deliver a programme for kinaesthetic learners that focused on purpose and life skills. Construction became the clear frontrunner.  

Facing ‘a perfect storm’

David explains, “The construction industry is facing a tough time: there’s a perfect storm of workforce issues with a high demand for construction. A significant proportion of the workforce are headed for retirement, which is exacerbating labour gaps that have emerged, in part as a result of Brexit, alongside a big retention issue. The country needs to grow and retain more talent for this crucial sector.” 

Part of the core syllabus for trainees is English and maths, now taught by New Meaning graduate Adam Stallwood. At 18 years old, when Adam joined New Meaning as a trainee, he hadn’t anticipated that a construction course would lead him to a teaching career.  

From a young age, Adam had ambitions to be an art teacher and after completing, but not enjoying, an art course at his local college, he worked in a shop. Adam was unhappy and jumped at a recommendation from a friend to join the New Meaning programme. Just weeks into the course, Adam made a stool in carpentry and felt great pride in having created his own piece of furniture. He went on to follow the decorating pathway and, after two years on site, felt the same pride as he watched young families move into the homes he had decorated.

Adam’s manager recognised his potential to lead, and supported him to become a New Meaning trainer. Now with his qualifications, Adam can see the difference he is making in students’ lives and hopes to go on to gain more teaching qualifications himself.  

Engagement and employment

This personal support and belief in students shines through. New Meaning invests time and energy in reaching out to the wider construction community to educate and train them so established tradespeople can work with and support young people. Through this engagement, many of the New Meaning graduates find employment. 

Since New Meaning opened its first UK training centre in 2015, it has been on a path of growth. The organisation is now supporting young people across Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Warwickshire, West Midlands, Berkshire and Cambridgeshire. Following fast, organic growth, New Meaning is looking to accelerate that growth further to enable them to meet the demands in the construction industry, and engage young people who would benefit from its training programme. As David explains, “The choice was to tick along or expand.”  

To support this journey, David joined the BOOST programme, a six-month programme delivered by The Young Foundation, that helps organisations scale-up through making connections and forging partnerships. Having taken part in the programme previously and made connections that led to grant-funding and partnerships, the goal was now to prepare the organisation to find £145,000 of investment or an injection of working capital. 

Through BOOST, David and the team have been able to refine and test out their investment pitch and seek advice from other participants who are ahead in their own journeys. David says he has found “affiliation with other entrepreneurs who are trying to level the playing field so everyone has an opportunity.”  

The home building / construction side of the New Meaning operations, which has already built 11 passive houses since 2018, is on track to treble in size by 2025. Its combination of purpose, education and construction skills will have a positive impact socially, in our built environment and through helping to bolster a construction sector in flux. 

BOOST 2021 has been part of the government-backed Inclusive Economy Partnership, which aimed to improve the lives of people across the UK, through partnerships. The Young Foundation continues to explore new forms of partnerships as part of legacy activities for BOOST, focussed on cross-organisational partnerships. Please email iep@youngfoundation.org for more information.

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