A PROJECT to build a £2.7m construction training skills centre near Gloucestershire College’s Northern Quarter campus has been boosted by funding of nearly £2m.

The scheme in Cinderford is being spearheaded by long-standing family firm the KW Bell Group, which began life 52 years ago when founder Keith Bell was a solo bricklayer and is headed by his son Peter.

The £1.96m capital grant towards the building of the 980m sq centre at Whimsey Industrial Estate is thanks to a bid by Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, which was awarded £11.3m from the Government’s $900m ‘Getting Building Fund’.

Industry employers, including global giant JCB, are backing the scheme – which will focus on developing job-ready men and women, equipped with knowledge and practical experience of the latest technological advances in sustainability and ‘digital construction’ – alongside Gloucestershire College and the University of Gloucestershire.

As reported in last week’s Forester, the new Construction Education Centre will be “a centre of excellence to inspire, train and connect” people entering and advancing within the construction industry.

It will include a schools’ programme to offer an introduction to modern career opportunities available in the construction industry, including education pathways from 16-years up.

KW Bell Group safety and business development director Nicola Bird, a third generation member of the Bell family who has been has been instrumental in driving the project, said: “The construction industry has a serious skills shortage, both nationally and regionally, so it is vital that we act now to inspire, train and connect construction workers with forward-thinking employers and educators.

“Our industry has a crucial role to play in helping the UK to reach its carbon reduction targets, as well as drive forward the economy through the Covid-19 recovery.

“Construction is changing. We must increase our capacity to retrofit energy products in existing properties and to accelerate the building of carbon neutral homes.

“This project will support these needs by working with local ‘green contractors’ to understand their skills requirements and will aim to introduce a sustainability programme within the first year of operation.”

KW Bell will fund the outstanding £700,000 estimated costs, project manage the build, support the construction work, and undertake the day-to-day running of the centre once complete.

Plans submitted last month to Forest Council planners include real and virtual learning environments, such as a mock ‘live’ construction site, high-tech digital machinery, drones for use by trainee surveyors and simulators for safely training operatives in the use of heavy plant.

The centre will support learners and apprentices from NVQ Level 1 through to undergraduate degree and will also be used by tradespeople updating their industry-accredited qualifications, and employers upskilling their workforces.

The aim is to open the centre, which will create five new jobs, at the end of 2021, with 200 CITB and industry-recognised qualifications in year one, rising to 500 per year by year six, 26 apprenticeships in year two, rising to 40, 100 pupils per year attending the ‘Introduction to Construction’ Key Stage 4 School programme with speakers and career talks, rising to 500 by year six.

The funding obtained by GFirst LEP also includes £1.25m for a ‘Digital Innovation Farm’ at Hartpury University, for fast growing enterprises in the agri-tech sector to explore, test, trial, research and develop products, or enhance existing ones.

GFirst LEP’s chief executive David Owen said of the £11.3m windfall: “This is welcome news for the county’s economy. The LEP team have worked hard with partners to ensure our pipeline of creative and innovative infrastructure projects is always up to date.”

Chair Dr Diane Savory OBE added; “During this time of economic uncertainty I am really pleased that these projects have been given the green light to get shovels in the ground.

“These projects will give Gloucestershire’s businesses and young people greater opportunities to access the very best type of tailored support that is needed now more than ever.”

Forest MP Mark Harper said: “Hartpury University and KW Bell have put forward great projects thoroughly deserving of this funding and I look forward to following their progress with much interest.”