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   Inside Out - South West: Monday 13th January, 2003

CRAFT CRISIS

Craftsman at work
CRAFTY PROFESSION | Craft skills were once handed down from father to son

Traditional crafts are dying out and there's a shortage of skilled craftsmen. Inside Out investigates the lost art of DIY, heritage-style.

We’re a nation of DIY addicts, obsessed with spending billions on home improvements and building works.

With this national obsession, you’d think that the craft of building would be booming with youngsters queuing up to take up the tools of the trade. Sadly it’s just not the case.

The ancient skills which built the South West’s magnificent heritage of country houses, churches and monuments are fast dying out.

The art of building

Once upon a time England was blessed with craftsmen working in every trade imaginable - builders, stonemasons, stained glass makers, plasterers, carpenters and tilers.

Stonework on old building
Traditional crafts such as stone masonry are dying out

Back in medieval times, guilds of craft workers were commonplace.

Now those very same crafts are in short supply.

Worse still, it's at the very time when the craze for preserving our heritage is at an all time high.

In the past, skills were handed down from generation to generation, from father to son. These days the old craft tradition in families is dying out.

So what can be done to stem the shortage of craftsmen in the heritage building business?

Bringing back the craft

Stonemasons at work
These stonemasons are skilled in carving new stones and undertaking remedial work on old masonry

Harvey Layzell is one of a dying breed. He learned his craft skills from his grandfather.

His family also runs an apprenticeship scheme in Somerset.

It's a tough training course which requires practical and creative skills as well as any eye for detail.

The family and their trainees have recently undertaken conservation work on a Somerset church, and almshouses in Taunton.

Modern apprenticeships

English Heritage says that the crisis in the crafts workplace could put buildings at risk.

Craft file - Stonemasons

There are 3,800 stonemasons in the UK.

Most stonemasons work for stonemasonry firms.

'Banker masons' produce their own work, although several banker masons may work together.

'Banker masons' are based at a stonemason's yard.

'Fixer masons' work out on site. They work alone or as part of a team.

They say that a third of historic buildings can't recruit or retain staff.

One way of tackling the craft skills shortage is to train more apprentices, and encourage young crafts people to take courses at colleges.

Today's trainee craftsmen can learn their trade by joining modern apprenticeship schemes run by the Construction Industry Training Board.

The City and Guilds also continues the craft tradition with courses in building and stonemasonry.

Future generations

Stonemason at work
Chip off the old block - stonemasonry is in the bones of many families

Learning on the job is one of the best ways for young craftsmen to get trained.

Many larger cathedrals and historic building organisations have their own stonemasonry and craft teams.

But the best way of keeping up the old traditions alive is to convince young people that a career in craft building is worth cementing their future in.

Only then will the future of our historic buildings and craft traditions be secured for generations to come.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Construction Industry Training Board
Building Crafts and Conservation Trust
English Heritage
City and Guilds
Godolphin House
Building Crafts College

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