BEST of Broxstowe
The Broxstowe Estate lies on Nottingham’s northwestern edge in the highly deprived Aspley district. Crime is high, unemployment is higher, and teenage pregnancies are the highest in Europe.
Who will take on Aspley’s problems? Step forward Anna Mimms – an arts graduate with a career in further education who is now trained to hang fire doors and lay bricks as chief of social enterprise building firm BESTBuild. Part of BEST, the Broxstowe Employment, Skills and Training organisation she founded in 2004, it has won work from Nottingham City Homes and other clients big and small, creating a viable source of work for and training opportunities right in the heart of the estate.
Big Issue vendor Ricky Bell, who lives nearby, met Anna and one of BEST’s workers, Tony Spooner.
Anna set up BESTBuild in 2009 in response to the number of construction workers left unemployed after the banks stopped lending. With the help of some friendly ears at Nottingham City Council, a chance meeting with a major construction group, and considerable chutzpah she was able to set up the fledgling BESTBuild as the council’s ‘arms length social enterprise’. Within a few months, BEST had won contracts worth £300,000 and £200,000 funding for training.
“Places like Broxstowe are islands; people don’t go out much, they don’t have a broad view of the world, or even outside the estate, and they have children terribly young. You end up with a self-perpetuating cycle, for which anything you decide is to blame will itself be a symptom of something else. But among it all, there are people who are trying really hard, and they are who we try to help.” – Anna Mimms.
Tony has been with BESTBuild for three years, and is currently working on the Streetclean project. “We’re painting and repairing fences in the area, and also putting in kitchens and toilets for disabled people in their homes,” he says. “At the moment I’m the driver, so I’m fetching and carrying.”
How did you get involved?
“I started off as a plasterer when I left school. My mum and dad were disabled to some degree, and I became a full time carer for them both for 20 years, until my eldest son moved in with my mum and took over the responsibility, and I went out to look for work aged 40. I didn’t realise that you need NVQ this, NVQ that. I had no idea. I thought I’d be able to get a job but I just hit a wall.
“Everyone on the dole has a past. It’s getting a future that’s damn hard. I got on a 10-week construction course, one day a week with a bunch of 18-year-olds. I dropped into BESTBuild to do a CV, and within two weeks I’d got a job under the Future Jobs scheme. I’ve been here for three years now.”
How is it different to just a training course?
“It was a real knock coming back to the workplace. After 20 years you don’t know anything. I’ve seen the next generations of trainees coming through and how they’ve progressed. We’ve got six apprentices at the moment. I’ts not just about teaching them how to do the job, but all the soft skills, the customer service skills, the way you dress and present yourself – it’s something the young people have to learn.”
What effect has BEST had on the estate?
“Visually, the improvement is enormous. The area has got a lot better. It’s cleaner, it’s nicer to look at. People respect the area more than they used to. If you keep your area right then it follows elsewhere.
“I’ve lived here all my life, and I think BEST has made Broxstowe a better place. You used to have to walk around in groups here, not now. You don’t get abuse off groups of lads anymore.
What about on you?
“It’s changed my life, because it happened so quickly. I didn’t have time to hit that stage where you’re so disheartened you don’t want to look for work anymore. I think I’m one of the lucky ones, but BEST is certainly one of the best things that happened to me later in life.”
See their website for more information on BEST and BESTBuild.