Partnership helps preserve traditional building skills

SOME of Scotland’s most iconic buildings could benefit from a new Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) partnership, which has been launched to help meet demand for stonemasonry skills.

The St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop Stonemasonry Apprenticeship Scheme – which will run as a partnership between CITB and St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop – was recently visited by Gordon Lindhurst MSP.

Five stonemasonry apprentices will be among the first to benefit from this CITB support. They include Ben Nicolson (18), from Edinburgh. He said, “Starting an apprenticeship in stonemasonry is a great opportunity for me to learn new skills and earn a wage as I do so. I’m really excited about it as stonemasonry skills have become pretty rare in Scotland. I get to work on some stunning stone projects and I work with lots of enthusiastic, knowledgeable people. This apprenticeship will help me to build a secure career for the future – where no two days are the same.”

St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop has trained generations of apprentices while continuing its work to restore the stone fabric of St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral. Apprentices attend Edinburgh College during their four-year training, after which they gain an SVQ in Stonemasonry.

Gordon Lindhurst MSP added, “I am glad to support the apprenticeship scheme at St Mary’s Cathedral where traditional methods of stonemasonry are taught. St Mary’s has a proud tradition of carving out the stonemasons of the future. These skills are urgently required across Scotland and particularly in Edinburgh where the skills will contribute to the maintenance of buildings that are fundamental to Edinburgh’s World Heritage Site.

“I am pleased that CITB is able to support this apprenticeship scheme and I hope this investment in skills can continue so that we can maintain our proud built heritage.”

Sarah Grotrian, chair of St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop said, “Our workshop has turned out more than 50 master masons over the last 30 years. With only 400 stonemasons in all of Scotland, this is a significant contribution to the workforce. Now that the restoration of the Cathedral is nearly complete, we recognise the need to modify our method of training to secure the future of both the workshop and the apprentices. Hand carving and fully rounded stonemasonry training are traditional skills in increasing demand but in short supply.”

The new training model allows apprentices to attend work placements and gain practical experience. Some restoration projects the apprentices have worked on include New College, Old Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Calton Hill, Jacob’s Ladder, Newhailes and Forresthill Edinburgh. 

Gillian Cain, head of CITB Apprenticeships commented, “As a globally-renowned World Heritage site, Edinburgh is home to some of the most beautiful stone buildings in the world. It needs a skilled, well trained workforce of stonemasons to maintain and carry forward these buildings well into the future.

“As the largest provider of Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland, CITB is proud to support St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop and its fantastic stonemasonry apprenticeship scheme. Stonemasonry is a highly prized skill, offering an exciting and rewarding career.”