Pioneering project tackles trio of problems

A desperate shortage of affordable homes, jobless youngsters drifting through life without skills, and the need to find sustainable ways of living – a Norfolk charity is tackling this trio of major problems head-on with a pioneering project.

The Benjamin Foundation is employing four young men with difficult backgrounds to build eco-friendly flats at its Winston Court hostel, learning traditional building skills and gaining nationally-recognised qualifications.

The four, timber-framed flats, which will include energy-saving devices and use recycled and local materials, will offer homeless young people a half-way house between living in the North Walsham nine-bedded hostel and independent life.

And project manager Chris Snelgrove, a civil engineer who specialises in green wood and other traditional crafts, hopes to create a ripple effect, with each trainee eventually in charge of his own team, passing on knowledge and helping others into worthwhile employment.

Mr Snelgrove would like to hear from craftsmen prepared to pass on their skills to the team.

He said: 'I want to get the guys to the point where I could give each of them the drawings and they could go away and build it.'

The team, aged 19 to 24, is each earning �6.20 per hour. The current minimum wage for workers over 21 is �5.80.

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They have already spent time learning green-wood techniques and will be taught other specialist skills such as making wattle and daub, alongside bricklaying, masonry, plastering and carpentry.

Homeless team member Richard Fuller, 19, left school with no GCSEs and then 'messed around' for a couple of years, sometimes in trouble with the police.

'This has changed my life,' he said. 'I'm not bored any more.

'In five years I'd like to think I'd be doing the same as Chris – teaching others what I'm learning now.'

Ricky Scarff, 22, from Norwich, joined the team after three jobless years and a history of mental health and drug problems.

'Coming into work every day has helped give me self belief and I respect myself more,' said Mr Scarff, who hopes to build his own home one day.

'You're always learning. Soon I'll be able to stand back and say 'I did that'.' Contact Mr Snelgrove on 07584 500052.