Echelon helps Festival Housing Group do more than win a major award

Festival Housing Group (FHG), the West Midlands-based housing association, has won a UK Housing Award – in the ‘Developing Skills and Capacity’ category – for helping selected Year 10 and 11 pupils at Droitwich Spa High School to develop skills, and gain nationally recognised qualifications in, property maintenance. Known as the ‘Skills for Life project’, it began as a management training opportunity for FHG staff but has gone on to create an imaginative link with Droitwich Spa High School which provides employment and training opportunities in property maintenance for Year 10 and 11 pupils at the school.

These students learn a range of property maintenance skills as part of their curriculum and their two year course includes one day a week working with FHG. Moreover, FHG has agreed to take on at least one of the current pupils as a full apprentice when he leaves school.

Guided by coach Nicole Wehden from the organisation development consultancy Echelon, FHG – which prides itself on ‘building successful communities’ across Herefordshire and Worcestershire – initially got the pupils to spend one day a week with FHG’s maintenance company. This not only provided them with the practical skills and experience in such things as plumbing and electrics but also enabled them to have those skills recognised via City & Guilds qualifications.

Clare Huyton, FHG’s executive director, said: “We are delighted to have this project recognised on a national stage.

 “To win this award is not only a tribute to my colleagues at FHG but also to the pupils and staff at Droitwich Spa High School who have worked so hard to help make this project work. We look forward to continuing this success for many years to come.”

Subsequently, through links which Droitwich Spa High School has with a Kenyan school, workers from FHG’s maintenance company visited this school and not only built a classroom there but also trained pupils and teachers in maintenance of their school buildings. And now that the project is into its second year, FHG is building on its success by adding a partnership with another secondary school on the theme of community safety and work with several local primary schools.

“The aim of the project was to give four local youngsters, who had very little in terms of future prospects and motivation, a real start in life,” explained Kay Dovey, HR Director for Festival Housing. “After working on the project for a year, the project team worked with the local Droitwich Spa High School as well as Festival Housing management and staff to create a new experiential programme of work which could ultimately result in a Modern Apprenticeship for the students involved.”

The project was the brainchild of Echelon’s Jenny Hill and Nicole Wehden. Hill explained: “The initiative supports FHG’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) goals and helps its managers achieve a ‘Cert.M’ qualification. Participants use action learning methods to manage a ‘real time’ project.”

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