As 2016 target ditched, first apprentices start on groundbreaking zero carbon development

July 23, 2015

apprenticeships, skilled employment, new build homes, zero carbon communitySHIFT accredited A2Dominion, the lead developer at UK’s most sustainable development NW Bicester, has welcomed its first young construction recruits on site. Willmott Dixon, the contractor on the scheme, recently hired its bricklayer apprentice and completes the initial weekly college student placements. The NW Bicester masterplan will encompass up to 6,000 highly energy efficient new homes.

When 17-year-old David Fowles left school he had no GCSEs and was looking for jobs in supermarkets.

Fast-forward six months and David is now the first apprentice at NW Bicester, loving his work as a bricklayer and on his way to gaining his NVQ2, with career ambitions one day to become a site manager.

While David focuses on his apprenticeship, construction students from The Banbury and Bicester College are also getting an insight into the latest building practices on site, taking part in a series of work experience placements planned between March and June.

They are all part of the team delivering first phase to create the UK’s first true zero carbon community. Features include homes with triple glazing, solar panels on every roof, and rainwater harvesting. As well as new energy efficient homes, the development will incorporate a nature reserve, new schools and public services, with strong public transport links and cycle ways. The building process will send zero waste to landfill, a feat so far only achieved by the London Olympics.

David, from Bure Park, Bicester, said: “It’s really enjoyable and you learn a lot. Since I was in Year 6 at school it’s what I’ve wanted to do. It’s practical, it’s doing something new, and working in pairs takes teamwork.

At first it was hard. On my first day I didn’t know what to do. But the rest of the guys all give you tips and they are there to help. Once you get into it then you keep picking up new stuff and once you get the basics you quickly get the hang of it.

Commenting on the schemes, Louise Caves, Strategic Partnership Manager for NW Bicester said:

We are delighted to have welcomed our first full time apprentice and student work experience placements on site at NW Bicester with our main contractor Willmott Dixon.  David is the first of 10 apprentices that we will create directly on the Exemplar phase while some of our sub-contractors have already taken on their own apprentices as result of winning work packages on the scheme.

For us, it’s all about sharing the economic benefits of this pioneering project with local people. We believe that hands-on learning of traditional trades and sustainable construction practices are an important part in the development of the future construction workforce.

As this unique development continues to evolve we look forward to welcoming more apprentices and students learning new trades at NW Bicester.

David’s is a two-year apprenticeship, with the option of a third year. About one week in seven he attends Oxford & Cherwell College to be taught the technical and theoretical side of the trade, as well as getting support to improve skills such as maths.

Things didn’t look so bright when David left The Cooper School. He’d failed his GCSEs and, without qualifications, was searching for a paid job wherever he could find it. But he had the nous also to invest hours looking for an apprenticeship too – and it paid off.

He is employed through CoTrain, a Shared Apprenticeship Scheme provider selected by Willmott Dixon and A2Dominion, which collaborates with contractors from Oxfordshire to provide quality placements to train up the next generation of tradespeople.

David added: “I’m working on a mixture of blockwork, stonework and brickwork. I’ve also learned general health and safety, cooperation, measurement and maths, and cutting blocks. I can now work out how many bricks to lay for a course.

I’m more confident now too, my maths is better, and I’ve definitely loaded up my motivation. My proudest moment was when I was starting to get into the rhythm of laying the bricks and – just for a bit – I could keep up with the others.

I’ve had a couple of funny moments too like when I was really struggling to lay the bed properly – I couldn’t do it! Looking back on when I first started, I feel so much more secure now.” David added: “CoTrain have been very supportive. They don’t just help you to obtain the apprenticeship; they help you afterwards and make sure you’re okay.

I would advise other people to do an apprenticeship. The one thing that puts people off can be the pay but they need to look at it long term. When I’m finished I’ll be qualified to work as a bricklayer and I’ll be in demand for jobs.

For more information about NW Bicester visit

A2Dominion is accredited through SHIFT. SHIFT provides independent verification of environmental performance. Organisations involved work to continually reduce their impact. For more information about SHIFT, visit our new website here.


Sustainable Homes

Sustainable Homes