January 23, 2021

Community approach attracts award recognition

A pioneering project providing training and employment to ex-young offenders, of which Esh Construction is a founder Advisory Board member, has won a major national award.

The Community Project of the Year was announced at the prestigious Water Industry Achievement Awards which involved more than 500 of the water sector’s most innovative and cutting-edge companies and recognises outstanding innovation and best practice across the industry.

The Skill Mill, a unique social enterprise company based in Newcastle upon Tyne, was formed in 2014 employing young people on flood risk management and on environmental, horticultural and watercourse management works.

Part of the success of the Skill Mill in reducing reoffending is believed to be due to the employees being reconnected with their local communities and the nature of the work that The Skill Mill is commissioned to deliver. Some of those taking part have said:

“It’s great…it’s given me the opportunity to change, turn my life around. My future is a lot brighter. It’s good to know that I’ve done something positive for the community. I really like being around the water, hearing the water flow, getting my hands dirty. And on top of that, I know I’m getting a wage.”

“It’s good…it gives me the opportunity to do work and prove that I can do it. My family are proud of me. I like being outside near wildlife.”

Supported by major North East Businesses including Esh Construction (part of Esh Group), Northumbrian Water, The Environment Agency, Newcastle City Council and Northumbria University The Skill Mill began as a successful trial project by the Newcastle Youth Offending Team (YOT) in 2011. The organisation is supported by an Advisory Board, which comprises experts from partners who support the development and expansion of the social enterprise.

Young people progress into further employment with partners or associated employers in areas such as construction and watercourse management following six months of paid employment and training.

Over the past 15 months The Skill Mill has directly employed 11 young people and 10 have found follow-on employment with partner agencies and other local businesses. Since 2011 more than 200 young people have progressed through the Newcastle YOT programme.

Ross Markwell of Esh Construction said: “We’re very proud and honoured to have won this award. The Skill Mill links education, industry, government and business to deal with interlinked social and community problems involving crime, environmental damage, flooding issues and local communities.

“It provides real employment opportunities for vulnerable young people whilst operating in a commercial environment, tendering competitively for many of its contracts. Most recently this has included the young people working in partnership with Esh Construction to play a part in the £1.9m refurbishment of Exhibition Park in Newcastle upon Tyne to refurbish the lake, landscaping and park.

“Those taking part get on the job training, gain industry standard qualifications whilst experiencing employment in a fully functioning company.”

Linzie Pentleton, Northumbrian Water’s sewerage network controller, said: “We are proud to support The Skill Mill and to help young people turn their life around. This initiative strongly reflects Northumbrian Water’s commitment to being involved in all aspects of community life. The award was thoroughly deserved for all the hard work that goes into making The Skill Mill such a successful partnership.”

Commenting on the success of the scheme, Barry Coppinger, Police & Crime Commissioner for Cleveland said: “I believe firmly that people who make mistakes should be given the chance to make amends and undertake rehabilitation to enable them to contribute positively to society and break the cycle of offending.

“Projects like Skill Mill, which give young people mentoring and qualifications, are invaluable in preventing the cycle of offending behaviour. I’ve been delighted to meet the young men involved in this project and to hear about the benefits they feel it has brought to their lives.”

The Skill Mill co-Director, David Parks said: “The Skill Mill’s great strength is in the partnerships that have developed; like-minded and committed people working together to create opportunities and improve lives. We are delighted to receive this recognition by the Water Industry which demonstrates the value of The Skill Mill not only to those working to reduce offending and increase employment but that we are delivering important, valued work for the environmental sector.”

Maureen Gaines, organiser of the Awards and Editor of WET News explained:

“The Water Industry Achievement Awards, organised by WET News and Water & Wastewater Treatment, are the highlight of the UK water industry calendar. They reward and recognise the innovation and best practice of companies that go above and beyond the call of duty in the sector. Competition for these awards is fierce so to win is a major achievement.”

The Skill Mill is working with YOTs in Cumbria, Leeds and Manchester to develop new sites and so increase the numbers of young people and customers benefiting from the success of the Newcastle / North East team.

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