Respecting the Past, Building the Future

1st March 2019
Martin on site at Hillsborough

In 2018, unified by the vision of our Patron, HRH The Prince of Wales, to support British craftsmanship, provide skills based education in traditional crafts, save our cultural heritage and improve the built environment, The Prince’s Foundation and QEST launched the Traditional Building Skills Programme. This year-long course is designed to bridge the gap between basic qualifications and becoming a master craftsperson working in the heritage sector.

The search began for applicants with an NVQ/SVQ Level 2 or 3 or equivalent work experience in a relevant craft: stonemasonry, woodwork, plastering, blacksmithing, bricklaying, thatching and painting and decorating. Interviews were held jointly by the two charities and the first intake of seven students, from across the UK, started in October with an intensive week of workshops at Dumfries House Estate in Scotland. This residential course at the home of The Prince’s Foundation provided an introduction to traditional architecture, drawing, geometry and the principles of sustainable development. It was also a chance for everyone to experience and understand the ethos behind the project.

The collaboration between The Prince’s Foundation, QEST and industry partners enables a varied curriculum, comprising three major Live Build projects linked with short courses (covering cross disciplinary topics: building crafts, decorative and applied arts, drawing and sketching, architecture and urbanism, as well as, crucially, business skills) and placements in workshops to learn first hand from masters of their trades. Simon Sadinsky, deputy executive director of education at The Prince’s Foundation, is a strong advocate of Live Builds and the role they play in underpinning the courses and preparing students for a professional workforce: “The Live Builds sit at the heart of our craft training programmes. The opportunity to gain site experience is hugely beneficial to understand how their trade fits into the wider built environment, and to learn from, and with, craftspeople from other disciplines.”

The first Live Build took place at Hillsborough Castle, the official residence in Northern Ireland of Her Majesty The Queen, as part of the £20m restoration of this landmark tourist attraction with Historic Royal Palaces and the government Historic Environment Division. The students worked alongside experienced mentors to create a walled garden pavilion, now the centrepiece of this heritage site. Following a week-long Winter School at Dumfries House in January, the team began a three-month Live Build on the Estate to create an outdoor classroom featuring oak framing, a thatched roof, and earthen walls. The final Live Build will take place over the summer at The Royal Gardens at Highgrove and will see the restoration of a well using traditional materials and techniques.

Throughout the year, alongside their own trades, everyone is given the chance to work on a range of allied trades and provide design input. On completion, as well as valuable practical experience in traditional building skills and mentorship provided by the alumni network, they will have the opportunity to gain an NVQ Level 3 in Heritage Skills.

This article was originally written by Karen Bennett for the Spring 2019 QEST magazine.  Images courtesy of Iain Brown.