Business at the heart of the community: Helping the next generation to get ahead

Lambeth young people have to compete with people from all over the world for the jobs on their doorstep, but Lambeth’s businesses are giving them the leg up they need to get the competitive edge in the global talent race. 

Young people in Lambeth are amongst some of the most ambitious and entrepreneurial in London, and have every industry imaginable within a bus journey. But they are also competing with talent from all over Britain and the world for jobs and opportunities. The real scandal is that those opportunities are still more available for those lucky enough to have wealthy or well connected parents.

Lots of young people I’ve spoken to are stuck in a vicious circle. They can’t get a job because they don’t have any experience but they can’t get experience without getting a job. And we know that the earlier young people get experience of working, the quicker their confidence and soft skills get up to where they need to be and the more likely they are to have a lifetime of higher paying work.

The employers at POP Brixton are doing their bit to widen opportunity and get the experience. As part of the “community giveback” initative that all the POP businesses have signed up to, they must volunteer at least an hour a week of their time to give to the local community. This week that took the form of a jobs fare in the greenhouse at POP. I was pleased to be able to head down to open the event alongside Michael Groce from Green Man Skills Zone.

40% of the businesses who attended had vacancies; either for full or part time jobs, apprenticeship or traineeships so the young people who came along were genuinely in with a chance of finding something. They could also pick the brains of the employers to find out what it takes to become a successful business person. Green Man were on hand too to offer advice about how to write a CV and tips from employers about what they look for in candidates.

Last week I was at Lambeth College meeting the graduates from the hospitality training course, all of whom had worked in Clapham businesses for a couple of weeks to gain that valuable experience. The course trainers told me that the practical exposure to real employers had been the most interesting and motivating part of the course (honest of the teachers!)

This Friday Morleys are hosting a frgrance workshop for young people in partnership with the Young Lambeth Cooperative, not just fun about making your own perfume but business sense and entrepreneurial skills and shaping up business acumen. All over the borough businesses are playing their part offering work experience and saturday jobs. But we need to make sure that this is available to every young person in Lambeth.

My role is to make sure that Lambeth young people win the talent contest for jobs and other opportunities. I’m confident that they will but a little help from local businesses won’t hurt and and the business community is starting to do its bit.


POP Brixton: Showcasing Lambeth’s entrepreneurial and sporting talent

Will the next Nathaniel Clyne please POP up…

Despite the lousy weather, there’s definitely a feel of summer around Lambeth and nowhere more so than Pop Brixton. It’s buzzing and has already breathed new life and energy into the Pope’s Rd site. Creativity, hard work and bold ambition from everyone involved has made Pop Brixton possible but ultimately its success is down to the local traders whose range of goods, food and drink coupled with great enthusiasm is a brilliant recipe. And a huge thank you to traders this week for sorting out local young people with work experience and traineeships.

Now, there’s more exciting news of a radio station and summer football training on the site. Thanks to an imaginative collaboration between Pop Brixton and Adidas the global sport brand, funding’s being provided to fit out Reprezent Radio’s new Brixton based studios.  Reprezent’s already established as a unique broadcasting outlet for young people and once it’s up and running in its new home, there’ll be over 400 training opportunities for Lambeth youth wanting to learn sound engineering, music production and enterprise skills.

From August 6th, Adidas are running football workshops and training sessions, completely free and open to local people. They’re also working with Young Lambeth Coop to engage schools and sports clubs and provide kit. Lambeth has already produced a number of home grown England players – Kieron Gibbs grew up in Kennington and Nathaniel Clyne is from Stockwell. Maybe the next England star is out there waiting to be discovered.

Lambeth is a pretty sporty borough, with three brand new leisure centres and a host of classes and activities for all ages and abilities. Inside and outside, at street gyms and parks, sports and community centres, schools and clubs there’s something for everyone .  You might be counting the days until the football season kicks off or are simply inspired by England’s women footballers World Cup performance but if you’ve ever fancied a go at improving your football skills, Pop Brixton’s the place to be.

Sign up for the event here  and you can find out more about Pop Brixton here

Maximising Social Value from Somerleyton – creating jobs, supporting local firms and making the £’s go further

An £88m investment in over 300 new homes, a theatre, chef’s school, nursery, street gym and community space has now been agreed and we will use this opportunity to re-engineer the local economy and support Lambeth firms. Any big builders who tender for the contract will have to demonstrate social value in their supply chain or they won’t get the contract, and this should give more power to small local firms who employ locally, pay the London living wage, take on an apprentice or ex-offender.

The redevelopment of Somerleyton Road will create homes for 300 families in the heart of Brixton. Those families will live on a road with a new children’s nursery, a new theatre, community spaces, a street gym, green space for growing food and much else. I’ve written about it in more detail here and here.

The good news is that Somerleyton is one step closer after Lambeth Council Cabinet voted unanimously to approve the plans on Monday 12th July – you can read the minutes here.

As a result, the next phase of the project can now get underway. Detailed work on the design and layout will now be completed and a planning application is expected by the end of August. Between now and then we will be designing the procurement framework. In plain English that means awarding the contracts to the firm who will lay the bricks, plaster the walls and landscape the gardens.

While the council will naturally seek financial value from the contracts, the work won’t simply be awarded to the lowest bidder.

Instead we will look to maximise social value. In practice bids which include firm commitments for use of local apprentices, employment of Lambeth residents and payment of the London Living wage will ‘score more points’ than bids which don’t. It will also mean that bids where work is subcontracted to suppliers who provide social value – firms like Bounceback who work with ex-offenders to get them back into work and on the straight and narrow – will be more likely to get the contract.

Too often smaller local firms are muscled out by the giants, or at best given “crumbs from the table” in a market that seems weighted against them. One of the things this will do is create a more level playing field so local firms that employ local people are given a fair chance, but also hopefully see more small firms decide to be more socially minded so they are ‘worth more’ at the supply chain table.

And I want employment opportunities to go to local people. Somerleyton is in an area that ranks in the top 10% most deprived in the country. Unemployment is high and income is lower than the borough average. So we will be looking for firms that can offer quality apprenticeships for younger people to give them the skills they need to open up a good quality career with a decent wage, as well as wages which are at the London Living wage.

Importantly, the procurement process opens up an opportunity to help marginalised groups into work. For many people, for a variety of factors, work is a distant dream. But unemployment is toxic and is a primary cause of other issues such homelessness, crime, depression. That’s why we will be looking at what we can do to help some of the ‘harder to reach’ groups. That might be helping ex-offenders to go straight or supporting employment for people with mental health issues or learning difficulties.

In the coming months our procurement strategy will start to take shape. The bottom line will be about more than pounds and pence but about the value we can extract for the whole community. And who knows, maybe some of the local apprentices building Somerleyton Road might actually end up living there once it’s done!

Somerleyton Road: the future of housing development in London

With rent and house price inflation rampant, Somerleyton Road proposes a new way of developing homes and communities with value remaining within the community, not maximised and entracted by profiteers.

An important milestone in the redevelopment of Somerleyton Road will be reached when Lambeth Cabinet meets on Monday.

I will be asking Lambeth’s Labour Cabinet to agree the next step of a unique London community housing and building programme by a Council in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country that will see over 300 new homes for rent, built in the heart of Brixton, owned and run through a community trust. 

 Of those houses at least 50% will be genuinely affordable (not the Tory Mayor’s definition of affordable) and 70% of those will be at council rent levels, way below what a private landlord charges in Brixton. That’s been made possible because Lambeth has decided to do it ourselves, not go into business with a private developer. This means the Council and community have much more control over what is built, the quality of the build and importantly that the 20% profit which is practically guaranteed under Conservative planning rules will remain within the scheme. Working in partnership with Brixton Green and Ovalhouse Theatre, our focus has been on delivering genuinely affordable homes and a thriving, mixed local community, rather than making a profit.With 21,000 people on Lambeth’s housing waiting list and 1800 families in temporary accommodation, we are proud that over half of the new homes will be affordable, against a London average of 28% and a scandalously low 13% over the river in Westminster. It will be a road where people pay fair rent and none of the homes will be sold off. For the social rented units, the rent on a one bedroom flat will be around £100 a week. That’s 3 times lower than local rents in Brixton.

The social,  affordable and private flats will all be in the same blocks – there will be no poor doors on our development –  because we believe in mixed communities where everyone, regardless of their background should be neighbours and get the same services. We may not be able to control this in private developments in our borough, but with this scheme we have more freedom to do what we think is right.

As well as new homes, a children’s nursery, chef school, flexible community space and a theatre will all find a home on Somerleyton. There will also be training opportunities, healthy activities such as a street gym and spaces for growing food. The latest plans can be viewed here

The other distinctive thing about development is the genuinely collaborative approach to planning and design. Residents have been involved right from the start, providing ideas for what they and their neighbours need in this part of Brixton. In January a sustainability workshop was held and in February a housing event took place to help us understand the needs and preferences of local people and throughout the process we’ve always touched base with locals and interested people. Residents from Fitch Court who will be moving into a purpose built extra care facility are working with the architect to shape the design and landscaping of the flats they’ll be living in. Even after the last brick has been laid at Somerleyton, residents will continue to be in control as the final development will be managed by local people through a new housing cooperative. 

This level of involvement has not made this the simplest process and at times there definitely felt like there were a lot of cooks. But I’ve been determined to ensure that this long-term investment in Lambeth, with its 250-year lease, is done right. Spending time in dialogue will, I’m sure, result in a better scheme.

As the Cabinet report sets out, the majority of funding will come from the Council. It will be paid pack through income from rents – estimated to be around £86m – over 50 years. The Community Development Trust which will have a 250 year lease is being developed and with the housing coop have to balance rents between the private flats and the affordable.

In 1968 Somerleyton Road, which was then the heart of Brixton’s West Indian and Irish communities, was condemned because of the cramped and overcrowded conditions and dilapidated housing. Nearly fifty years on, the decision by Cabinet on Monday should mean we can look forward to a new community on Somerleyton road – some newcomers, some who’ve been in Brixton for years – but all enjoying good quality, affordable homes as part of a community right in the heart of Brixton.