Plans to develop a ground-breaking housing and construction skills academy in Sunderland, backed by TV architect George Clarke, are beginning to take shape

The £15million Housing Innovation and Construction Skills Academy (HICSA) will be pitted at the heart of Riverside Sunderland, one of the UK’s most ambitious regeneration projects, and will play a key role in plugging the North East’s gaping skills gap.

The housing and construction skills academy, which will be just a stone’s throw from the Stadium of Light, will form a key part of Sunderland’s ambitious city centre housing ecosystem, enabling local people to meet the city’s future housing needs, with the skill and expertise to employ modern methods of construction (MMC).

construction skills academy

Sunderland City Council, Education Partnership North East and the Ministry of Building Innovation and Education (MOBIE) – founded by George Clarke – have worked together to develop the plans for the housing and construction skills academy which went to planning last month.

Supporting housing projects in Sunderland

When completed, it is hoped that HICSA will support the development of hundreds of eco-friendly homes planned for Riverside Sunderland and the city centre.  The planning application follows the Government’s Levelling Up Fund (LUF) announcement as part of the last Autumn Budget, which committed £20m to support the city’s housing ecosystem, including £9m of support for HICSA.

Councillor Graeme Miller, leader of Sunderland City Council, said he was delighted to see the project advancing.

He said: “Sunderland is a transforming city, and part of that picture is the development of high-quality sustainable homes.  I have an ambition that the activity we drive as a council is geared towards creating jobs and opportunities for local people, and through HICSA, we’re absolutely doing that, ensuring it is local people who will have the skills and expertise to build the homes of the future.

“This is true partnership and true innovation.”

construction skills academy

construction skills academy

Learning new skills to make Sunderland’s homes smarter and more sustainable

The facility will enable Sunderland to build the skills-base to upgrade the city’s homes locally, using MMC, low carbon, renewable energy and smart technology.  The housing and construction skills academy will position Sunderland at the heart of the UK’s net zero ambitions, enabling the city to capitalise on the move towards modern methods of construction and sustainable house-building while helping Sunderland realise its Smart City and Net-Zero Carbon ambitions.

Ellen Thinnesen, chief executive of EPNE, which includes Sunderland College, said: “For a number of years Councillor Miller and I have talked about our collective aspirations for a construction skill centre in the city.  As a consequence, the college has worked with the council’s chief executive, Patrick Melia, and his senior team aligning economic strategy to technical education and skills; ultimately this has led to this visionary new development, a key part of the levelling up agenda.

“As Sunderland College and our wider college group, Education Partnership North East (EPNE) and the city continues to lead the way in terms of green skills strategy and future economy, I am thrilled this important project has taken yet another step forward”.

“We are a hugely ambitious college, and Sunderland is an equally ambitious city, so – by working in partnership with the council and our colleagues at MOBIE, we can ensure that bears fruit for the city’s young people and adults wishing to newly train, upskill or reskill.”

Inspiring young people to think about the future of housebuilding

One of the key partners shaping plans for HICSA is MOBIE, which was founded by Sunderland born TV architect, George Clarke.  The organisation was set up to inspire young people and to revolutionise the way we think about our homes and produce the talent capable of creating future-housing.

Clarke believes that – by developing HICSA – MOBIE can play a key part in creating innovative, low carbon homes across the region, working with young people to drive social mobility by giving them the skills they will need to transform the way we build homes in the North East, which will in turn create new and exciting jobs.

He said: “HICSA is game-changing, so we very much hope this planning application is green-lit, so we can advance with the pace and energy Sunderland is renowned for.

“This is a truly innovative project and we’re really proud to be playing a part in it – particularly because of the boost it will deliver to my home city.  There is a huge opportunity for Sunderland to play a leading role in defining how homes of the future look and through HICSA, to develop an eco-system that will allow people from the city to build them too.  We’re hopeful of making this our national HQ for MOBIE as it really does epitomise what we’re trying to achieve with MOBIE.”

‘HICSA has the potential to become a national leader in the provision of skills for better home design and delivery’

Mark Southgate, chief executive of MOBIE, said: “The way we design and build homes is changing. HICSA will help ensure that young people entering the home-building industry have all the skills they need for the future, including digital design, knowledge of manufacturing processes and techniques and low carbon technologies.  I really believe HICSA has the potential to become a national leader in the provision of skills for better home design and delivery.”

HICSA is one of a number of exciting projects that are incorporated in the Riverside Sunderland Masterplan, which sets out a development framework for this new urban quarter, comprising the former Vaux Brewery site, High Street West, Keel Square, Galley’s Gill, Farringdon Row and Sheepfolds.

The Sunderland Future Living Expo is also part of the plan, helping to engage and inspire industry and local people in the delivery of innovative homes on the site, and positioning Sunderland as a world-class place to live, work and play.

The Expo – the date of which will be confirmed soon – will feature a series of events and experiences to engage visitors in new and sustainable ways of living, set in-and-around new high-quality homes for the city centre.

As well as showcasing HICSA and the city’s carbon-neutral homes of the future, the Expo will also see igloo Regeneration, alongside Mawson Kerr, Useful Projects and Cast – joint winners of the UK government’s Home of 2030 competition – officially unveil the first of their +Home developments on the site.

The council has secured £2.188m from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities to help deliver the scheme, part of a wider commitment to Sunderland that will also enable the development of HICSA.

Peter Connolly, chief executive of igloo Regeneration, the developer bringing the Vaux scheme forward with the city council, said: “This is another significant milestone in our planned delivery of Riverside Sunderland. The Vaux scheme is transformational: not just in terms of the design and sustainability credentials of the homes, but also for the city of Sunderland as it’s the first phase of the wider project, where ultimately, the city plans to build up to 1,000 new homes that will benefit existing and future communities.”


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