Historic Niphon Works project delivers for apprentices
A historic factory that helped put Wolverhampton on the industrial map is providing construction apprenticeship opportunities for city people as it is transformed into homes.
Developer Hamilton James Construction has recently taken on five apprentices to learn their trade on the former Niphon Works development at Lower Villiers Street in Blakenhall.
Four have come from the City of Wolverhampton Council and Department for Work and Pensions’ Wolves at Work programme, with the other coming through the Women into Construction course, both run in partnership with City of Wolverhampton College.
The four-storey, derelict Victorian building is being converted into apartments – preserving as much of the original structure and architectural features as possible.
Councillor Lynne Moran, the council's education and skills chief, said: “There is £3.7 billion of investment on site or in the pipeline for the City of Wolverhampton.
“On the back of this, construction projects are springing up across the city, creating jobs and skills opportunities.
“It is important City of Wolverhampton residents are given access to these vacancies and programmes like Wolves at Work and Women into Construction are making this vital link.
“The added bonus with this particular project is it is creating homes while at the same time restoring a much-loved historic building.”
The development has also been welcomed by Wolverhampton South East MP Pat McFadden, who said: "I am delighted to see this historic building being brought back into use. It lay empty and unused for far too long and it is great to see it being given a new lease of life.”
Niphon Works apprentice Karen Reynolds, aged 47, said: “It was a great opportunity provided to me by Wolves at Work, Women into Construction and City of Wolverhampton College.
"I was looking for a challenge and a new career to bring out my skills. Having the opportunity to work with Hamilton James is fantastic and I thank them for giving me the opportunity to do my plumbing apprenticeship and giving me the opportunity to learn new skills. I am the first female construction worker the company has taken on.”
Fellow Niphon Works apprentice, Kevin Richardson, also aged 47, said: “I enjoyed attending the Wolves at Work Pathway into Construction course and learnt a lot of new skills in construction and employability which helped me gain a plastering apprenticeship at Hamilton James after a week’s trial. I am looking forward to gaining my formal qualifications and working full time for Hamilton James.”
Niphon Works was built in 1885 by entrepreneur Robert Stroud and was once the city’s biggest factory, employing more than 300 people at its peak.
It was home to a number of different strands of manufacturing over the years, with tin trunks and coal scuttles made there.
It also produced decorative goods using the ‘japanning’ lacquering technique for which Wolverhampton was famous.
The firm later diversified into cabinet-making and made bodies for the Star motor company, based in nearby Frederick Street.
But the sprawling derelict site had been labelled a ‘death trap’ in recent years with tiles and shards of glass falling on the street below in high winds.
Now the listed four-storey building is being converted into 49 apartments, with plans to retain as much of the original structure and architectural features as possible. Two rear wings will be demolished and a new wing built to link in with the original Victorian design.
Hamilton James Construction director Sodhi Atwal said: “When Hamilton James Construction took on this project, we thought about who would benefit the most, considering that Niphon Works is a locally listed building.
“We wanted to give the local people a chance to help us build Niphon Works to its glory of what it used to be.
“This is where the Wolves at Work construction programme helped us find the candidates that now are the apprentices working alongside us today.”