Preston Vocational Centre: Education with a heartbeat

PVC has worked with 6,000 learners.
PVC has worked with 6,000 learners.
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Ben Naylor was in Year 11. He didn't much enjoy school and was shy, but he had come to Preston Vocational Centre to learn. The charity, geared towards helping young people struggling to adapt to mainstream education with practical vocational training, allowed him to thrive. Around a year later, Ben left with a pair of BTEC diplomas and a new job.

This is just what PVC does.

Martin Grayston.

Martin Grayston.

Established a decade ago, it has seen some 6,000 learners come through its doors, plenty of them leaving to embark on fulfilling careers in trades such as bricklaying, plastering, joinery, construction, and painting. Showing budding young adults that there is more to education than just a A Levels, university, and student debt, PVC has been a community lifeline for many.

From DIY courses and their summer Festival of Building Skills, to their European Union-funded, year-long Building Futures Pre-Apprenticeship in Construction course, PVC's tutors have over 50 years of experience in the trade and are available to proffer first-hand advice and guidance to those on the courses, which are open to anyone not in employment, education, or training.

"I would say to anyone who gets a chance to come to PVC - give it a go," said Ben, who received the PVC Manager’s Award for Student of the Year last month. "I worked on a scaled-down house; I built it almost all by myself - the plastering, roof, the windows, insulation, and brickwork. It makes you feel proud to see what you’ve achieved."

Instilling pride in your work is one of PVC's tenets.

The charity is open toanyonenot in employment,education, or training.

The charity is open toanyonenot in employment,education, or training.

Centre Manager, Martin Grayston, said: "We're a training centre with a difference; it's got a heartbeat. When I first walked around [the premises ten years ago], I had a vision, and we've gone from strength to strength. Every day is different [and] it’s really rewarding when you see students gaining confidence, progressing towards a positive outcome."

Malcolm Clarke, former Chair of PVC, agrees. "We were keen to make sure it wasn't like a school or a college," he explained of their approach when setting the charity up with help from Preston City Council in 2009. "It was going to be something very different, something hands-on that young people would feel comfortable coming to and getting involved in."

In 2013, Preston's largest social housing association, Community Gateway, were so impressed by PVC that they incorporated the charity into their group and now actively encourage their tenants to engage with them. For people who have been out of work for years and need a boost to get them out the house or give them some confidence, PVC is potentially life-changing.

"I was invited down to PVC and I was very impressed; it was a hive of activity," said Rob Wakefield, Chief Executive of Community Gateway and board member for PVC on his first visit to the charity. CG saw the benefits of learning new skills and meeting people as a way of combating isolation, and they soon saw dramatic turnarounds in their tenants, with some going on to start careers in the trade they studied at PVC.

"Martin's passion for the centre and the learners really came across," Rob added, something former student Liam Barnes can attest to. "There aren't many places like this, they should have more for [people] who don't do well at school but who want to get their head down," he said. "I probably wouldn't be where I am now if I didn't come here."

With their work now well known after a decade of changing lives, PVC was recently awarded £23,000 by the Lancashire Police and Crime Commissioner to roll out a twilight programme to help prevent kids getting involved in serious crime or knife crime and have also been named as one of the eight finalists for the 'Third Sector Business of the Year' at the Be Inspired Business Awards (Bibas).

"We have a real impact on the community [and] the passion I've got today is the same as the passion when I first started," Martin says. "It's a job I absolutely love, I've got a great team, and the difference we're making to these young people is massive."