Last Friday, amid all the turbulence at Westminster, I visited a place of beauty and calm right in the middle of our bustling Borough.
West Ham Park, the largest park in Newham, has been maintained by the Corporation of London for use by the public since 1874 and when I was a councillor in Newham I really wanted to add it to the Borough’s own stock. I will admit to being just a tad jealous. The visit last Friday fell on a gloriously warm day and I was thrilled to witness a great spotted woodpecker feeding its young in a tree. Only the day before had I seen a spotted woodpecker in my own garden. Apart from the wildlife, I was wowed by the landscaping and the glorious rhododendron bushes. It was a real picture.
But this park is not just for show. I saw adults and children having picnics, a school group playing sport and the installation of a rather large green tunnel.
This is going to be used for an exhibition created by an artist in residence working with local residents. It’s going to contain a hundred displays about East London’s heritage.
Local children are going to be decorating this tunnel by tying recycled materials on to it and it will be left in the Park for all to see their creativity.
I understand that this project has been inspired by Tate & Lyle and is a celebration of all that sugar produces: from the obvious sweets, cakes and confectionery, to the less obvious.
But the thing that excited me most about my visit to the park was meeting Ajay. Ajay is a local boy who lives just around the corner from me in Plaistow and went to Lister School. He has secured an apprenticeship with West Ham Park which enables him to earn a good wage while he’s training. And it is a good wage. Ajay is really enjoying his apprenticeship. He intends to build a career around landscape gardening. Given the state of my garden, I am in sore need of his services.
This is a great example of how apprenticeships are now available in all kinds of careers, thanks to massive Government investment over the past decade. Over 100 sectors now offer apprenticeships, providing a wide choice of placements, as well as more traditional openings like in construction on the Olympic Park or in local firms such as Kesslers.
In 1997, only 60,000 people started apprenticeships nationwide and the completion rate was very poor. This Government has invested to provide apprenticeships and the completion rate is at an all time high of 63%. This year, over 250,000 young people will start apprenticeships in England alone, with extra Government money providing 35,000 additional places for young people in these difficult economic times.