Academy aims to open world of high finance to young Londoners

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It is, says the official invitation to the launch of the latest flagship new academy, "just a stone's throw from Canary Wharf".

That was the trouble. In the past, that was the nearest youngsters from the Tower Hamlets area ever came to the multibillion- pound finance and shopping centre in the East End of London.

The well-paid jobs on offer in the chic new offices – with some of the highest salaries on offer in the country – were just not for them.

Indeed, in the early years, there was friction between the newcomers and the residents of one of the most disadvantaged boroughs in the country. Passengers on the Docklands Light Railway – then the only method of transport back to the centre of London – were even shot at with air rifles.

Now, through the new £5m National Skills Academy for Financial Services, the aim is to bring down the invisible but impenetrable wall dividing community from financial sector.

It will provide 600 people aged 16 and upwards with a range of courses teaching them financial skills and equipping them for the highly paid jobs on their doorstep.

Young people like Dorian Williams, who lives in nearby Manor Park, are among the first to benefit from the new academy. His family have no history of going to university and he admits he lacked the confidence to go for a city finance job – even though he was accepted on to an economics degree course at the Royal Holloway University.

Mr Williams, 20, says of his first few months on the course: "I didn't meet anyone from east London and I couldn't find anyone with a Caribbean background."

However, thanks to a course in securities and investment and a mentor from the Financial Services Agency who can explain to him how to penetrate the world of city financiers, he has that confidence.

"It is like supplying me with the icing on the cake," he said. "I have had the confidence to do work placements and my goal now is to get into investment banking. If I'm 100 per cent honest, I never even thought of that as a job – I just thought it was impossible."

For Koyrun Naha Begun, 22, another student at the academy, her first taste of Canary Wharf was working on a check-out till. She had studied for a law degree but wanted to get into financial management. "I think the link was missing," she said. "We just don't know how to get into that area."

Therese Reinheimer-Jones, the academy's head, said: "We see a wealth of intelligent young people from the area enter the academy without direction or confidence. When they leave, if they are like Dorian or Koyrun, that will be a thing of the past."