Construction and Infrastructure

The family firm spearheading Gloucestershire’s new £2m-plus construction skills centre

Written by: Andrew Merrell | Posted 06 August 2020 9:38

The family firm spearheading Gloucestershire’s new £2m-plus construction skills centre

When GFirst LEP revealed this week it had helped secure the county £11.3 million to be split between five investment projects to create nearly 1,000 jobs there was plenty of celebrating. 

It was good news at a time when such currency is thin on the ground, but the limelight perhaps missed some of the key players who made it all possible – the private sector firms like KW Bell. 

The Forest of Dean-based family firm, which has long been a force in the county’s construction sector and no stranger to training the next generation, is also putting hundreds of thousands of pounds of its own money into the scheme. 

Now it will be able to do just that in even more style, with £2million of the GFirst LEP pot helping it to build a new Construction Education Centre in Cinderford – in partnership with nearby Gloucestershire College and also the University of Gloucestershire.

The ambitious project aim is to “establish a centre of excellence to inspire, train and connect people entering and advancing within the construction industry”.

“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,” said Nicola Bird (pictured above), safety and business development director of K W Bell Group and the third-generation member of the founding Bell family and has been instrumental in driving this vision for the project. 

Today the business employs an estimated 500 staff. 

“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.”

Read more: £11m plus of investment for Gloucestershire will create almost 1,000 jobs 

The centre “will be focused on developing job-ready men and women, equipped with knowledge and practical experience of the latest technological advances in sustainability and ‘digital construction’”. 

Designed to cater for multiple age ranges, the 980m2 centre will include a schools’ programme to offer an introduction to the modern career opportunities available throughout the construction industry, including education pathways from 16-years up.

The blend of 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, will all support learners and apprentices from NVQ Level 1 through to undergraduate degree. 

The centre will also be used by tradespeople updating their industry-accredited qualifications, and employers upskilling their workforces. 

Aside from the government funding of £1.96 million for capital build costs - part of a successful £11.3m bid by Gloucestershire’s Local Enterprise Partnership, GFirst LEP, for projects in the county - the remaining project costs, anticipated at around £700,000, are being funded by privately-owned K W Bell Group. 

The company has purchased the land and submitted a planning application to the Forest of Dean District Council. Once planning approval has been granted, work will begin on site immediately, with the aim of being open for use at the end of 2021. 

K W Bell Group will project manage the build, support the construction work, and undertake the day-to-day running of the Centre once complete. 

The project is expected to deliver: 

· Five new jobs (FTE) staffing the Centre in year one 

· 200 CITB and industry-recognised qualifications in year one, rising to 500 per annum (pa) by year six 

· 26 apprenticeships completed in year two, rising to 40 completions year on year from year three onwards 

· 100 pupils per year attending the ‘Introduction to Construction’ Key Stage 4 School programme with speakers and career talks, rising to 500pa by year six 

K W Bell Group is a group of companies originally founded by the company chairman Keith Bell in 1968. Its head office is situated in Cinderford.