Young people lay the foundations for the future of Welsh heritage

Tuesday 04 November 2014

Meet the students who have chosen limestone over lecture halls and castles and traditional buildings over common rooms to get hands-on experience restoring some of the most iconic buildings in Wales.

Picture of a group of 17 apprentices visiting the restoration project at Cardigan Castle

A group of 17 apprentices visiting the restoration project at Cardigan Castle

Building with lime, traditional carpentry and stonemasonry are all in a day’s work for trainees at the Tywi Centre, a heritage, training and information centre based in Carmarthenshire.

The trainees are taking part in the Foundations in Heritage Bursary Scheme – a year-long training course for craftsmen and women wanting to achieve an NVQ Level 3 in Heritage Skills in traditional carpentry, plastering, stone masonry or roofing skills.

As part of the course, Cadw, the Welsh Government’s historic environment service, has arranged for students to visit a number of the properties it’s helping through its Historic Buildings Grant programme, to give the students first-hand experience of the complexities of large-scale conservation projects.

Most recently, a group of 17 apprentices visited a restoration project at Cardigan Castle – where the aim is to create a significant and sustainable heritage attraction and a multi functional cultural, community, tourism, recreational and learning facility, which will attract visitors, create jobs and enhance this historic building.

Jill Fairweather, Inspector of Historic Buildings at Cadw said: “The trainees spend much of their time developing their individual specialist skills, but don’t often get chance to see the whole picture or to meet the team of professionals involved in a project of this scale. Cardigan Castle, which dates back to the 11th century, is a perfect example of how complex these types of restoration projects can be. After decades of neglect and decay new uses were urgently needed that would help protect the site, which contains a scheduled ancient monument, several listed buildings and a registered historic garden. Bats have also set up home there, so there are a lot of factors that have to be taken into account when working on a project of this nature."

“The students had the opportunity to speak with the conservation architect and discuss how he balanced these considerations against other factors, such as the requirements of funding bodies and building regulations.”

The Foundations in Heritage Bursary Scheme has been running from the Tywi Centre, Llandeilo since 2011 and has so far been completed by 50 people, with a further 14  currently on the course.  

Trainees are selected through a rigorous recruitment process, before being placed with local heritage building companies that provide them with mentorship and relevant work experiences. These placements are required for the trainees to work towards their NVQ Level 3 in Heritage Skills.
Helena Burke, Heritage Bursary Scheme Officer at the Tywi Centre, said: “The visit to Cardigan Castle was very interesting and relevant to the students as ten of them have had placements on this project over the past two years.”

“Cadw has been very supportive of the scheme since it began in September 2011, offering placements at a number of its sites and teaching skills to the apprentices which has led to employment by Cadw or other partners within the heritage sector.”

Ken Skates, Deputy Minister for Culture, Sport and Tourism, added: “Our historic buildings make a real difference to the communities that surround them and help give Wales its unique character and sense of place. Through giving trainees an opportunity to work with the experts from Cadw on live projects, it ensures that their knowledge and skills are passed on to secure Wales’s heritage for future generations to explore and enjoy.”

Funding for the bursary scheme has been secured by the Tywi Centre through a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) and through the support of Carmarthenshire County Council who lead the project. It also receives support from the National Trust.