Lloyd Graham, Community Engagement Manager at Keltbray Group

Keltbray recently shared a positive message regarding the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, highlighting our fight to diversify not only our workforce, but the industry as a whole. The business has welcomed having the difficult conversations, as ultimately this is what will drive change.

I am the Community Engagement Manager for Keltbray, the business appointed me not because of my background in construction, but because of my background in working in communities. As part of my role I have regular communication with community groups and partners, and recently I addressed the issue of race from my own personal view in relation to our industry.

I personally shy away from the term ‘BLM’ due to the negatives people draw from the wording. Even if some don’t express it as such, I personally believe people have their preconceived notions and ideas about the movement and what it represents. With this in mind I like to address it as – ‘Issues of Race’.

Construction has long been known as an industry that is not diverse. How we can change that and address issues of race is a conundrum for some. But part of the answer is on your projects’ doorsteps.

A Section 106 is a legal agreement between an applicant seeking planning permission and the local planning authority. In a nutshell it allows the council to extract certain commitments from a developer so that the local community is not left worse off by the work that takes place, and typically gains some extra benefit. It’s thanks to this bit of planning law that I am able to find jobs for the communities in which we work and go some way to improving our diversity.

An example of Section 106 working at its best is our own Natsenet Kebrom, known to us as Naz, who this year’s NFDC Apprentice of the Year. Naz was born in Sudan, but came to England with her family to escape the Second Sudanese Civil War and grew up in the relative safety of Islington. Naz enjoyed school, especially PE and Science, and took a BTEC in Science at college. In her teens and early twenties, she took up hospitality jobs in restaurants, coffee shops and retail, but always had one eye on construction. While she was aware that not many women chose to go into construction at ground level, in Naz’s own words she, “didn’t feel like it was an odd thing to be getting into. I always liked it.”

Naz decided to take the plunge after being convinced to start by a female friend who already worked in the industry, and began her journey in early 2017 with some agency work for London Diamond Drilling on a Westminster City Council building. In 2018, the advocacy group Women in Construction put her in touch with Keltbray.

Naz started on site as a labourer, clearing rubbish and moving materials, but has since gone on to become a demolition apprentice, which she is due to complete this year. 150 Leadenhall Site Manager, Stuart Joynson, said: “She knows what she’s doing. She has a goal, she’s communicated it to me, and I was impressed.”

Using tools such as S106 agreements in a smart way ensures more opportunities are provided to the diverse communities we work within, rather than just bringing workers to complete jobs. I encourage all of our partners to explore with their communities, service users and partner agencies what construction is, and what it can be. We want to steal the best minds, and most importantly the right people for the roles that will continue to be on offer throughout the industry.

Conversations with clients and local planning authorities are what continue to fill me with hope, as despite these difficult times there will continue to be opportunities for our communities to develop, as planning permissions continue to be granted with an expectation for jobs and opportunities to be created.