Ferryhill Town Council
One town council has developed an enviable training and development
strategy that runs throughout the local authority, as Tom James explains
Accolades come naturally to Ferryhill Town Council, it seems. The County Durham local authority has picked up several for the quality of its sporting provision in the last decade. But it is the approach to training and development running through every facet of services provision that arguably marks it out for special attention.
Situated in the heart of the county, Ferryhill Town Council has built a reputation for its attitude to skills development for both its workforce and its trainees. Staff supervisor David Hindmarch typifies the approach – his work with NVQ horticultural apprentices enables trainees to optimise their potential in what is an increasingly competitive sector.
“I’ve always been involved with youth training,” says the 43-year-old, who worked at Sedgefield Borough Council from 1982 to 2004 before moving to Ferryhill.
“As soon as I started at Ferryhill, I took the NVQ Level 3 assessors course and that’s brought benefits for both the council and its apprentices. I’m available for them and that’s important because a lot of work-based evidence gathering is required to complete an NVQ, and that can be difficult for trainees to put together quickly.”
Links with local learning centres are strong – none more so than with East Durham College at Houghall, which specialises in horticulture, agriculture and equine courses.Training prowess among its Ferryhill horticultural apprenticeships has come on leaps and bounds, to the point where two have been named Student of the Year, with a third vying for that honour in 2009.
That may not be so surprising given the standards of groundsmanship apparent through the authority. Durham County Cricket Club uses one of Ferryhill’s squares as a training facility for its youth teams and the ground plays host to junior level tournaments – last year’s England v Scotland U13 match, for example.
“We’ve enjoyed strong links with Houghall for some time,” continues David, who reveals why the system in place works so effectively. “The fact that I’m based locally enables me to complete trainees’ work-based assessments – such as overseeding a cricket square or ensuring they wear the correct safety gear - as quickly as possible. That’s the best way to work because it saves so much time, and successful completion of assessments forms the building blocks for a career.”
As a small authority, Ferryhill is limited in the number of apprentices it can take on. But those it does, excel. “We have two on the books at the moment and we can take up to three at different NVQ levels,” says Davd. Recent stars include Rasheed Vaughan (see STAL, Issue 1) who has recently moved to Sedgefield to pursue his career prospects.“He was our first Student of the Year, followed by Andrew Shaw, who has also moved to Sedgefield. It’s a great honour for the council and is strong evidence of the career structure we have in place.”
David’s training role passes beyond the requirements of his post. ”I look on the apprentices as friends, and any wisdom I have I try to pass on. The relationship with Houghall is mutual, explains David, who holds classes at one of the council-run cricket squares for 12-15 students. “Both Ferryhill and the college encourage this type of interaction. “There are not many local authority cricket squares – most are private – so a facility that does not charge the college for using it is a major benefit,and we can see which students hold most promise.”
His latest `protégé` is 19-year-old Byron Brown. “He is well ahead of schedule and is looking to complete his Level 3 NVQ in two years rather than three. The way we do things here gives us an edge. Some may find the paperwork more demanding and they may be reluctant to seek out the assessments and evidence unless an assessor is on hand and available.
“I can provide witness statements in the evening for them, for example, which saves them time. The difficulty of trying to get statements when an assessor is not on-hand can put off some students.”
The levels of paperwork can be onerous for apprentices, he admits. “They need everything including signed delivery notes for fertilisers – in Level 3, they have to put a certain type of fertiliser on a bowling green, for example, and have to provide evidence that this has been done.”
But he confesses to relishing his role. “I’m a bit of a mentor for them I suppose. I enjoy that side of things.” Ferryhill’s executive officer Jamie Corrigan is proud of the council’s track record in apprenticeships.“There is no reason why the system we have here could not be rolled out nationally,” he declares.
A small employer with just 18 full-time and six part-time staff, the council gained the Investor in People award in 2000 - a major stepping-stone in an evolving process of training and skills development, says Jamie.
“We have developed a training strategy aimed at creating a life-long learning culture within the council. Every member of staff undergoes at least one training course a year and we also encourage training among councillors – one has attended six courses, paid for by herself.
The philosophy involves everyone, he stresses, before going on to discuss the impact that David Hindmarch has made. “David is an amazing asset. He has good rapport with the trainees and seems to exude confidence and enthusiasm – factors that lead to success for those he trains.”
College-based work is not always a strong point with trainees, he acknowledges – one reason why Ferryhill helps teach them basic numeracy and literacy skills when required, and it’s a process that can steer them towards NVQ Level 4, with its focus on management skills, he points out.
The council’s seven groundstaff and trainees have their work cut out to manage the sports and amenity sites – and the trainees play a major role in delivering the services. “Usually, we have two trainees at different stages of apprenticeship,” adds Jamie. “We always have a Level 2 NVQ and sometimes a Level 3 on the books.”
Although the will is undoubtedly present, Ferryhill is too small an employer to always offer its apprenctices a permanent position. “The good ones move on to success elsewhere in any case.”Given its size, Ferryhill is punching well above its weight in more ways than one though, having secured funding of more than £1 million for a football facility (£705,000 from the Football Foundation and £320,00 from Sedgefield Borough Council) to serve the needs mostly of young people.
“We have been leading on this project for some eight years, but development had stalled because the match funding was not sufficient to realise the development plan. The cash from Sedgefield is manna from heaven,” states. Ferryhill’s executive officer Jamie Corrigan.
The plan is to develop Dean Bank Park, where some 300 people play sport every week, and convert derelict land into two new grass football pitches in addition to the two full size and two junior pitches already there.
The new playing areas will take some 18 months to become “fully seasoned”, he predicts, while the new changing rooms come on stream later this year, complete with public toilets and a youth café.“The plan will see 15-25 teams playing regularly at the facility and up to 500 youngsters a week using it.”
Currently completing the final units of his NVQ Level 3 qualification in horticulture at Houghall College, 19-year-old Byron Brown clearly has a yearning to achieve in his chosen profession. He discovered his passion for outdoor work during work experience. “I worked at Castle Gardens in Bishop Auckland for a few weeks; I didn’t do anything too challenging, just general maintenance work, but I discovered I really enjoyed being outdoors.
“I left school at 16 and saw the advertisement in the local paper for the apprentice position at the college - I think they offered me the position because I was just really enthusiastic.”
His progress in being able to achieve his qualification early is, he says, down to the training system in place - the combination of supervisor David Hindmarch and college lecturer Wayne Reid on hand to offer support and guidance when necessary. Included in Byron’s duties are the cricket squares and football pitches, which David Hindmarch readily admits to being kept in “exceptional” condition.
“David is a really good supervisor and he has helped me move on quickly. I don’t think it would have happened if he hadn’t been around so much to help students’ progress, working closely with both the council and the college, and helping arrange day release work.
“Day release is great; it means I gain experience of the work I’ll be doing and it makes for a more varied and interesting week.”
Byron believes East Durham College has an advantage over others offering similar courses because Wayne Reid is a permanent placement. “ We now enjoy far more stability - it’s a bonus that he’s supportive and really knows his stuff.”
Work-based learning tutor Wayne Reid has been resident at Houghall College for two years, previously working as a greenkeeper for 13 years at Haworth County Club and South Shields Golf Club before a stint as a qualified assessor.
He currently has some 30 apprentices on his books across the sector, including golf and football clubs – with some apprentices based at Premier League grounds.
“Part of my job is to visit David and Byron every three months to review progress. We also review Byron’s working relationship with David to ensure any problems can be ironed out if they occur and that both parties are happy with how everything is running.”
The support that David Hindmarch has given him has proved “of great help”, he says. “He understands the standards expected from the students and there is the added bonus of his infectious enthusiasm for his work which rubs off on the students and on me.”
As a qualified assessor himself, Wayne knows the benchmark of quality needed. “It only takes six months to qualify as an assessor but it is imperative that you are competent at the qualification you are teaching. Standards need to be equal or higher, and more importantly they need to keep rising. We strive to always increase our standards.”
His key task at Houghall is to equip the students with the skills and knowledge they need, including helping them with creative work programmes and maintenance schedules; vital skills for today’s workforce.
“I really enjoy the job, and it helps me stay up to date with industry changes, which means I am always delivering information to the students that is both current and accurate with what is expected of them when they enter the workplace. This is strengthened further by the close links we have built up with local employers.”