It’s easy to see how growing up in a male dominated family Danielle McGivern was a thorn in the side of her father, constantly asking to help out with his odd-job business by carrying tools around after him and helping splash paint on houses. In 2001, at 21, she quit her job in a supermarket and went to the job centre seeking something more rewarding. Danielle recalls: “They sent me to a recruitment day where Fusion21 and Bramalls had a stand, taking on apprentices for plastering, bricklaying and other trades, so I applied. I’d loved doing the bits with my dad and thought to myself why not.”
Focusing on plastering and using the workshop facilities at Fusion21 she smoothed her skills and was taken on as
a full time “adult apprentice” with Bramalls, a contractor for Knowsley Housing Trust. In a planned two year
apprenticeship Danielle became a fully qualified plasterer in just ten months and achieved her CSCS card in 2003.
Adapting to the hurly burly world of construction sites she went on to work as a plasterer on a contract for
Liverpool housing group Cobalt, which involved Bramalls delivering more than £7m of renovation work across
nearly 2,000 households.
Her hard work was rewarded further with the accolade of Apprentice of the Year at the 2005 Women in
Danielle looks back as it being one of her proudest moments: “Being nominated was a massive boost, but winning
it made me feel so good. To go from stacking shelves to this glittering arena was beyond my wildest dreams. Dad
was so proud but he didn’t show his feelings, so now and again I see him gaze at the collection of clippings from
the time and I know inside he is delighted.”
When the recession started to bite in 2010 work dried up and Danielle had to reconsider her options. Keen to
share her knowledge of plastering, she embarked on an ambition to teach others and undertook a course
preparing to teach in the lifelong learning sector (PTLLS). While studying she got working on a project to help
problem pupils expelled from school.
“These were NEETS, and they felt let down, nobody spoke on their level and they felt like they were always getting spoken down too. They were often misunderstood.” claims Danielle. Fascinated by the challenge to inject confidence and belief in their lives, Danielle spent two years working for Central Schools Training and then started to teach plastering in colleges before her old tutor at Fusiuon21, Ian Mcdonough, asked if she wanted to do some teaching sessions for the social enterprise.
“It was weird going from pupil to teacher at Fusion but I felt I could make a difference. The first course I taught on was foundation plastering and brickwork on a course commissioned by Connexions, a national information and support service for young people. I love working with this age group of 16-24 year olds, encouraging them to gain basic construction qualifications and working on their CVs to build their confidence. Many of them are so negative initially but there is nothing more rewarding than when they buy into what you are showing them with a hawk and trowel and they get it. A penny drops and they’re on board and a mutual respect grows.”
In Fusion21’s dedicated workshops Danielle confesses that tough days aren’t rare: “You have to understand this age group’s culture, their street level language and sometimes just persuading them that this course is their best chance of changing their life. But I love that, I feel like I’m 19 myself and really want them to enjoy learning so keep everything informal yet professional.”
There are no suits and ties in the Fusion21 training centre which houses workshop and classroom facilities, as acceptance and accessibility to tutors is key. This is essential as some of the trainees face a sample of life on construction sites.
“We have placements for our students and that can make or break them. I often think of myself over a decade ago when I was in their position and can get a lump in my throat. But giving them that chance is something I really push towards them and stress how much of a springboard it can really be.”
On graduating from such courses open days are hosted at Fusion21 so potential employers can meet newly qualified and enthused students pumped and primed for apprenticeship opportunities.
“The majority sign up for our shared apprenticeship scheme and we own a recruitment agency to get them into the workplace so we don’t just shut the door and wave them goodbye.” adds Danielle.
“Sustainability is our mission. It sounds corny but we’re changing lives and trying to improve the chances for people in communities by gaining employment and making their lives better. When we see them go on to employment with social landlords for example you know their life has changed through your help in nurturing them. Not just with skills, but changing their outlook.”
Danielle can’t seem to stop herself, explaining how she can easily be laying a new wooden floor in between preparations of a roast dinner on an average Sunday: “I love multi-tasking and always getting my hands into DIY”, she adds with continued passion in her voice.