Celebrity builder Tommy Walsh is removing students’ brick wall in Luton and Dunstable

Tommy Walsh and Jan Telensky
Tommy Walsh and Jan Telensky

Construction students have completed work on two abandoned properties in Dunstable and Luton being renovated under a revolutionary training scheme backed by celebrity builder Tommy Walsh.

Engineering Real Results, the largest trades training organisation in the UK, has spent months buying up neglected and derelict properties in a multi-million-pound move.

The initiative gives young tradespeople a way round restrictive Government legislation which forces apprentices to beg for unpaid work.

One property was the Grange Hotel in Great Northern Road, Dunstable, where students set about the first stage of turning the gloomy old late Victorian coaching house into six affordable flats for young people.

For more than a decade people living near the Grange, which had fallen into a near derelict state after it finally closed its doors in 2000, complained about the eyesore.

The scheme allows students to comply with Government rules which demand apprentices carry out 100 hours practical training.

Now they can complete their qualifications in weeks rather than years.

Another project was an old hat factory in Collingdon Street, Luton, which has been renovated and is used for student accommodation.

Many houses turned into hat factories have two large rooms built on at the back. In the ground floor room heavy work like blocking and stiffening was done. The room above was used for sewing the hats. These were still being built as late as the early 1900s. Children and adults sweated in the factories for 12 hours a day earning as little as three shillings a week.

Businessman Dr Jan Telensky, who is supporting the training scheme, said: “I came to Luton in the early 1970s and I remember the wonder I felt at this grand old town with its dark imposing buildings.

“I was also fascinated by the number of terraced houses with these large rooms almost hidden at the back. That’s when I discovered the history of hat-making here.”

A more ambitious scheme for Collingden Street is also set to go ahead when a block of 88 ‘green’ apartments will replace a number of rundown properties.

It’s planned that the state-of-the-art building will have rooftop wind turbines and a bio-mass boiler and will harvest rainwater.

As students began work, TV’s Ground Force star Tommy Walsh said: “The Government’s commitment to building hundreds of thousands of homes is threatened by skill shortages.

“Britain has plenty of young people ready to build a new life for their families by learning a trade, but they come up against a brick wall when it comes to completing their skills-set.

“They need practical experience to prove they can do the job and they find it very difficult to get.”

As the company’s property portfolio grows students will get the opportunity to buy homes at a discounted price.

Dr Telensky said there have been thousands of new construction jobs this year as builders attempt to meet Government targets, but apprentices who spent years learning to become plumbers, gas fitters, bricklayers and electricians have been missing out because of the legislation.

He said: “Our own apprentices were losing out. This new scheme, New Vocational Quickstart, involves renovating properties across the country and enables them to get their NVQ in just weeks instead of years.”

To help young families get onto the housing ladder, Dr Telensky hopes to offer some of the properties for sale at discounted prices to the students who worked on them.