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Gloucestershire Business News

Business leaders speak at 'upbeat' Forest meeting

A fascinating evening of discussion about business in the Forest of Dean took place last night (Thursday).

About 25 people attended the 'Listening to Business' event at the Speech House at Coleford, which was supported by Forest of Dean District Council, Business West and Gloucestershire Chamber of Commerce.

The meeting was chaired by Ian Mean MBE, Business West Gloucestershire director and vice chair of GFirstLEP, who introduced the three guest speakers who did a Q&A with Ian.

Cllr Jonathan Lane, cabinet member for economy at Forest of Dean District Council, who is a teacher by profession, said he was attempting to visit a new business in the Forest every two weeks.

He said it had been a real eye-opener and he didn't realise how many great busiesses there were in the Forest and the opportunities available. Other subjects he touched on included planning issues and AI.

Luke Freeman managing director of homebuilders M F Freeman Group, featured in Punchline on Wednesday for winning an industry 'Oscar' as a Small Housebuilder of the Year. 

Luke said the company will build around 100 homes this year and are growing 20% each year. They have 100 staff and over the last few years the family business has increased their turnover from £10m to £42m.

He talked about planning consents and how they would like to build more homes. But the challenges they face include needing a younger workforce and encouraging young people into the construction industry. He said the average age of their workforce is 55-plus so they need the next generatiion to come through.

They have four sites in the Forest in close proximity and they would like to use local contractors as much as possible.

Finally, Warren Thomas, an ex-Royal Marine who is now CEO of Gloucestershire Engineering Training, spoke passionately about the new training centre in Cinderford which is attracting local talent and training local young people.

He said they had 12 people on the course this year but by next September they were already full with 25 young engineers with plans to grow to 35 the following year, while their other base at Barnwood has 120 students. He said they also teach the young people life skills and it was transformatioinal to watch them develop.

Warren said there were 97 engineering companies in the Forest of Dean alone but there was a chronic shortage of engineers so it's critical that we train our young people.

After the Q&A, guests broke off into small groups to chat with the speakers individually.

Punchline-Gloucester.com editor Mark Owen, who attended the meeting, said: "Although the crowd was small, it was a fascinating evening. It was an upbeat meeting on the future of the Forest of Dean."

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