UP ON the scaffolding in Liverpool's Hope Street, between the cathedrals, Jimmy and Markie, Gerry and Ken and the rest are trying valiantly to be new men.

Traditionally, building workers on Hope Street - as in the rest of the construction world - scoured the street for women and fired off choice volleys of comment. The tighter the dress, or the warmer the weather, the more garrulous the worker.

But then came the Women's Educational Training Trust, converting a disused school into the Blackburne House Centre, to provide a women's technology scheme, and other projects and facilities. It decided to institute Britain's first anti-sexist building site.

The contracts stipulated no wolf whistles or obscene calls, no pictures of naked women on hut walls and no copies of the Star, Sport or Sun to be taken on to the site. The intention was not only to protect women on the street, but also those on the site, including some trainee joiners.

With the construction industry comatose, the contracts have provoked little dissent - there were a few bleats from managers claiming that such clauses were unnecessary because workers were already reformed.

A Merseyside firm, William Tomkinson, won the pounds 300,000 roofing contract - the internal works, worth pounds 1.9m, are still up for grabs. The 16 male site workers had the clauses pointed out to them: any taunting of women and they would be shown the door.

For local women, Hope Street is an ironic name. 'Passing building sites is bad enough with a bloke but just dreadful with another woman,' says Marie O'Hanlon, from Everton. 'Filthy suggestions - just degrading.'

Spurred on by the Hope Street example, women complained when a site worker at the former Liverpool Polytechnic was abusive to a woman visiting a centre for pre-school children. The man was removed. 'Nobody wanted him sacked, knowing he'd never work again,' says Marj Jones at the centre. 'But it's no good just moving them without education. Policies are useless unless you sit men down and tell them what women are feeling.'

Not everybody is convinced that calling out is heinous. Defenders of the custom, such as Jimmy Gardner, tend to be middle-aged: 'If you see a pretty girl, you like to make a comment - it's the manly thing to do.'

Younger workers are not convinced. 'I'd hate it if my girlfriend was whistled at,' says Mark O'Reilly. 'I'd be glad if this behaviour started fading out.'

Ken McKie, the site foreman, was slapped down after referring to two German joiners on an exchange scheme as 'ladies'. Chastised, he remarks: 'Calling out happens everywhere - shops, factories, even newspapers. Building workers are just more exposed to the public eye. But nobody here has asked to be moved because of the clauses.'

Gerry Robinson, 59, a joiner, says: 'Every building worker has called out in his time. But girls must be embarrassed and it's not fair on them. If girls whistled at me, I'd be dead embarrassed.'

At first, Peter Hughes, 17, a labourer, thought the contract was a joke. 'Some of my friends laugh, but more contracts will have these clauses after this.'

The trainee joiners, Petra Schulten, and Mechtild Steinhauer, both 22, from Bremen, have never heard of such a contract in Germany. 'But we understand so little because the men speak in this strange dialect. They could be rude, but we don't think they are.'

'I'd never comment on a man's personal appearance,' says Dot Mathews, the trust's building co- ordinator. 'He'd be mortified if I commented when his jeans were half-mast because of a beer belly.'

The women's technology scheme started in 1982, with courses including mathematics, computing and electronics. But with increasing demand, more space was needed - hence the building conversion. The new centre, scheduled to open in 1993, will provide 460 places and more courses. The premises have been provided by the city council, and funds for the work have come from the Government's City Challenge scheme.

Gladys Martinez, one of the architects on the Blackburne House project, recalls a visit to a site in Manchester with her partner, Maggie Pickles. Workers followed them, making lewd comments, until the women took out some architectural drawings. 'They just disappeared with embarrassment.'

Ms Mathews says: 'Workers can accept women as professionals on-site, but off-limits they often still regard them as potential housewives. We hope to change that.'

One passer-by in Hope Street, Val Loughlin, was bemused by the silence. 'I enjoy it when the fellas call out,' she says. 'Some of us like to be told we're looking good. And why not?'

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