A stonemason chiselling detail onto a piece of architectural stone masonry
James Digger, Stonemason at York Minster. © James Digger
James Digger, Stonemason at York Minster. © James Digger

Traditional Heritage Skills to be Saved Through New Apprenticeship Programme

A pioneering £4.3 million, five-year programme to help address long-term and severe heritage skills shortages in the construction sector has been announced  by The Hamish Ogston Foundation and Historic England. 

The grant is the largest one-off investment ever awarded to heritage construction training in England. It will fund an in-work heritage skills and apprenticeship scheme, which aims to increase expertise in essential crafts such as bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, painting and decorating, plastering, roofing and stonemasonry. Without intervention now, these crucial skills are at risk of being lost forever with grave consequences for England’s pre-1919 historic buildings. 

Apprentices will work alongside Historic England experts at sites in the North of England which are on Historic England’s Heritage at Risk Register. They will make valuable contributions to the restoration of some of the country’s most precious historic buildings, such as Grade I listed Wentworth Woodhouse in Yorkshire.  

Participants will be able to learn their trade at critical points in their career, acquiring important skills and knowledge. It will offer new pathways into heritage construction, from young people interested in a future in heritage construction to experienced professionals working in mainstream construction considering a move across to the heritage sector.

There will be a total of 40 training opportunities over the next five years.

Historic England hopes that this five-year scheme will attract a future workforce to the heritage sector that represents the diversity of this country. The focus is on testing this new training model and repairing buildings at risk, giving trainees an opportunity to learn their trade while ensuring a future for some of England’s most important buildings. The long-term ambition is to expand the scheme across the country, leading to more people in rewarding and vital careers in heritage construction.  

 The apprentices will attend four-to-six-week summer schools at nationally significant Heritage at Risk sites such as Wentworth Woodhouse, starting in the Summer of 2022. 

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Hamish Ogston CBE of the Hamish Ogston Foundation said:

Hamish Ogston CBE of The Hamish Ogston Foundation said:

It gives me a huge sense of fulfilment to make this investment in a project that I am confident will make a real difference to people’s life chances, setting them on a path to sustainable, satisfying jobs. What could be more satisfying than giving a future to our past through hands-on work to conserve the great buildings that are one of our nation’s greatest assets? Part of my confidence comes from our partnership with Historic England, which has a track record of first-rate delivery and implementation. Together we will help supply the high-level practical skills that our built heritage needs if it is to survive and flourish.

Hamish Ogston CBE The Hamish Ogston Foundation

Duncan Wilson Chief Executive of Historic England said:

We are delighted to be working with the Hamish Ogston Foundation on this ground-breaking programme. As life moves closer to normality again, this is an exciting employment and heritage skills training opportunity for young people starting their careers and for professionals in the construction industry looking for a rewarding change. This programme will inspire others by making a huge contribution towards saving some of England’s most important historic buildings.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive Historic England

Heritage Minister Caroline Dinenage said:

This brilliant new programme will get young people into skilled, sustainable jobs, and will also help to restore our country's precious heritage. I am thrilled that funding has been provided for these apprenticeships and I look forward to seeing their impact on our historic buildings.

Caroline Dinenage, Heritage Minister

Encouraging take-up

To encourage take-up of the apprenticeship programme, Historic England will be working with Further Education colleges and small heritage construction companies to recruit people in the core building trades of bricklaying, carpentry and joinery, painting and decorating, plastering, roofing and stonemasonry. Training providers include Cheshire College South and West, Hopwood Hall College, Leeds College of Building, New College Durham, The Sheffield College and York College. 

Plans for 2022

Next year, the scheme will also be open to experienced workers wishing to transition into heritage construction and learn specific heritage craft skills. 

Opportunities will range from shorter placements of around six months to placements lasting for a year. Placements will be paid and each participant will have the benefit of having a mentor from within Historic England to help guide their career.

Opportunities will also be available in 2022 for nine-week placements for students on full time construction courses, to raise awareness of heritage construction careers.

Case Studies: People at different stages of their career in heritage construction

 James Digger, Stonemason at York Minster

James, age 22 from Cambridgeshire, has been working at York Minster since 2017. When he started working there as an apprentice, he attended York College, having already studied stonemasonry at Moulton College in Northampton. He found the work-based training at York Minster provided valuable additional time using hand tools and working on complex stone components. When he finished his initial apprenticeship, he moved onto the Cathedral Workshop Fellowship training programme, which he has nearly completed.

In 2020, James was furloughed due to Covid-19. He began work experience with Matthias Garn Master Mason and Partner just outside York. There, he had the opportunity to use more mechanical tools and felt that his previous learning gave him the confidence he needed to adapt quickly. James looks forward to a long career in stonemasonry. He is confident that the skills and expertise he has learnt make him highly employable in the heritage construction sector.

Richard and Sara-Mae Jordan, Roofing Specialists, Derbyshire

Richard and Sara-Mae are a father and daughter team. Richard trained as a roofer with his father, working across the English Midlands and Wales. They mainly worked on traditional buildings, including buildings with local stone slates. Richard’s interest in heritage led him to become the first slater and tiler to do the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings Fellowship, where his passion for conserving historic roofs and their detailing really took hold. He has since had a long career in the heritage construction and conservation sectors and continues to be active, passing on his skills as a mentor in variety of different training projects.

Sara-Mae started working with Richard in 2016, when she was 16. She became interested in making slates, which was also an interest of her grandad. She finds it creative and is making slates for The Traditional Slate Company. Sara-Mae looks forward to helping others to practice this niche craft in other parts of the UK.

Tracy Brindley, Conservation Bricklayer, Sheffield

Tracy entered heritage bricklaying through an adult training scheme in the 1980s, when she was 19. It was a modern bricklaying course and after completing her City and Guilds qualification she returned to Sheffield to work in a co-operative alongside an experienced bricklayer on domestic properties.

Tracy wanted to develop further in the craft by moving into conservation but was unable to access this and reluctantly left the trade. However, in 2007 Tracy managed to return to bricklaying through the Women’s Construction Centre in Sheffield, an inspiring community group that nurtured her heritage goals by raising small bursaries for travel and training. Tracy also secured a bursary to work alongside historic brickwork specialists Mathias Restoration for 20 days. From there Tracy set up her own successful business conserving and repairing pre-1919 buildings in Sheffield. She has recently worked on the Portland Works, a locally celebrated collection of Little Mester’s workshops built in 1879 and now one of the last remaining working examples of a purpose-built metal trades factory.

Alice Eaton, Trainee Stonemason, RM Eaton Stonemasonry

Alice, 29, originally went to Sheffield Hallam University to study fine art. After this, she was keen to pursue her lifelong interest in conservation, restoration, lettering and carving through joining her father’s stonemasonry company.

Having worked alongside her father before university and afterwards, she was well-placed to join the company full time 18 months ago. She is passionate about the creativity involved in making templates for replacement stones and new, more monumental stonework. Alice wants to continue working for the family company but would also like to pursue her interest in the fine arts by learning more about wall painting conservation. She hopes that the Hamish Ogston Foundation programme will enable this opportunity for her.

Contact for the programme

For enquiries about the programme please contact:

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