Published - 30th May 2023

It’s one thing to see a plane in the sky, it’s another thing to believe that you are responsible for putting it up there! Daunting? Just a bit, but not for the community project, Petroc Build A Plane. The North Devon Campus has been the hub of this exciting project – converting their unused Art Barn into a makeshift hangar. The setting couldn’t be more perfect for a project of this magnitude!

Arranged and funded by Ken Charman, Build A Plane has had tongues wagging for months, and as the build enters its final stages before clinical flight testing happens, we caught up with Ken to ask him a little more about the project, how it has gone and why he wanted to create this opportunity for students and volunteers in North Devon…

What has Build A Plane accomplished?
Building a plane was set up to achieve two things.
Our biggest priority was to help students with their job and academic ambitions, and we have done exactly that. They have all secured their next step and leave us very proud of what they have done. They are confident in their abilities and know how to work effectively in a team on a demanding, complex, long-term, project.

You have really raised the profile of Engineering in North Devon with this project, was that the aim?
We wanted to raise the profile of engineering locally and in the college. By comparison with many things young people and the media are interested in, engineering can look a bit … dull. We turned that upside down. Making a plane is genuinely cool. Nothing is cooler. In a world where looking good and having a back story is so important, our engineering students (vocational and A Level) are at the top. Forget Internet influencing, movie-making, and the performance arts, … we are the biggest story in town.

Is this a project that can be set up elsewhere?
At Petroc College, more students now appreciate that engineering offers an exciting and rewarding career.
We would like to encourage others to do something similar. Over the course of a year, we kept a good record of how to do this, which we are happy to share with anyone. It doesn’t have to be a plane, but it does have to be something that captures the imagination, that nobody can say “so what?” about.

Our advice and lessons learnt cover a wide range of topics. We have the low down on securing funding (our project is funded by selling the finished plane (and volunteers giving up their time for free), securing a workspace, insurance, Disclosure and Barring Service checks (used to be a criminal record), recruiting students, recruiting volunteers, legal status, governance, project policies, safety and safeguarding, maintaining discipline and good working relations, keeping appropriate records, … the list seems complex and endless but it isn’t. Anyone can manage it and, although we have raised the profile and status of engineering in young minds, the rewards for all those adults who take part are very special as well. For a bunch of retired engineers, it has been a lot of fun. Finally, don’t be put off by thinking you need experience in teaching or youth work. The more you make it an engineering project, and the less it feels like school, the better it is. By the end of our project, the students and mentors had become mutually respectful colleagues.
If anyone would like to discuss doing something similar, please get in touch. You won’t regret it.

Ken Charman
Build A Plane Community Interest Company

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