THINGS are starting to get messy as I walk into the new Building Block facility at Warndon Community Centre.

A group of local residents are getting stuck into practising their bricklaying skills and it isn’t something that can be done without accidentally depositing a few dollops of mortar on the floor.

But the participants, the volunteer helpers and the construction skills manager Peter Miller are really enjoying themselves.

The £300,000 purpose-built centre, owned and run by Worcester Community Trust, opened for business in November and is designed to offer flexible training for people interested in working in the construction industry as well as others wanting to acquire DIY skills and expertise.

The courses on offer cover aspects of the building industry like plumbing, plastering, bricklaying, woodwork, decorating and tiling.

The three-hour sessions cost £10 per person and include the use of the tools and equipment and workbenches, tuition from Peter and his band of volunteers together with materials.

There is an array of straight walls, corners and arches under various stages of construction during this session but there is also evidence of tiling and woodwork – tables, trays, planters and toys - produced during other sessions.

Peter, who was in the Army for 23 years where he started acquiring training and development skills, said: “It enables me to teacher the students how to use the tools and we encourage learners to come up with their own creative ideas. They will walk out of here with a potting bench or a table after three sessions. People get as much out of it as they want to.

“We have five volunteers in total but we always want more. They are brilliant and the job is brilliant. Some of them have been in the trade all their working lives.” Peter also worked as a heating engineer and gained experience in bricklaying and plumbing.

“This is the best job I have ever had,” he enthused. “It is messy but it is brilliant. They are learning something, gaining skills and getting a sense of achievement. We have a laugh and a joke and get covered in muck - it is like a big shed really.”

“They make things to take away and use at home or in their gardens and we are also looking to develop skills they can use in a career.

“We would like groups to come in and use the facilities and companies to come in and use it for training and development. There are not too many centres like this anymore.”

Retired bricklayer Paul Flanner, aged 70, is one of the dedicated volunteers who comes along to impart his knowledge and skills each week. “Most of the volunteers have a skill and they want to pass it on. Others without a skill just want to help out.”

The sort of projects the learners want to attempt range from building a brick BBQ or a pizza oven or repairing a garden wall. He said people can learn here and make their mistakes before trying things at home. It helps to give them the confidence they need.

A lot of the tools and the resources – like wooden pallets which can be dismantled and used to make something else - have been donated.

Iris Sousa, who lives in Warndon, first went to The Building Block as a student in November and learned to do tiling, plumbing and bricklaying because she wanted to be able to use those skills at home.

“It is a very good thing to help people to do something at home that they would have to pay someone to do,” she said. “In the past I have paid so many people to come and do jobs that I can do myself now. “I still learn and am still doing the courses but I now help out.”

Paul, who volunteers two days a week at the centre, worked in construction for 30 years and used to run a gang of bricklayers for a big firm in Birmingham and went on to teach bricklaying at North Birmingham College.

He can spot those with the potential to become professional and said coming along to learn skills at the Building Block could change someone’s life. He said four of the students he has seen so far were good enough to get jobs in the construction industry. “I know they will make it. We want to get the best out of them and the students cannot believe what they are able to do.”

According to Worcester Community Trust chief executive officer Helen Scarrett, around 200 learners have used The Building Block to date developing their construction and DIY skills by accessing the 20 sessions organised each month.

She said: “It is fantastic. There is always someone in there learning the different aspects of construction skills. We are hoping that Heart of Worcestershire College will run apprenticeship courses and skills for 14 to 16-year-olds who are not engaging in lessons at school, as well as courses for the community.”

She said they wanted to help local people who do not have much confidence to get jobs in the construction industry.

“We cannot offer qualifications at the moment but we are going to explore that. People are coming from all over the city to use the centre and there are some people coming from St Paul’s Hostel.

“There are a lot of unemployed people in Warndon and Tolladine and we still know there is a shortage of construction workers. Some of the people we work with have low confidence and by doing something practical, they have created something by the end of the session and they can see what they have achieved.”

The centre has taken about five years to come to fruition and has been was funded by housing association Fortis Living and European money via Worcestershire County Council, while Worcester City Council is funding Peter’s post for a year.

Councillor Alan Amos, Worcester City Council cabinet member for Economic Prosperity and Tourism, said: “This is a very exciting project which I’m keen to encourage.

“It is spot on with the council’s agenda to increase employment, particularly among younger people in the city. For this reason we have contributed to fund the manager’s post for this centre.

“Personally I do feel there’s a great need for more vocational work, particularly in the construction industry, because of its multiplier effect throughout the economy. When someone buys a new house, they are also going to invest in a whole range of items to furnish it too.

“That’s why making sure people in Worcester have the right skills to support growth in the construction industry is so vital. I also think some of the courses on offer such as Mum’s Maintenance and Dad’s DIY will bring real benefits to the local community.”