Why you chose to take part in the programme?
From the start of my training with the Buildings Craft College, my ambition was to get on this programme. The idea of being part of such an intense training programme, where I would have the opportunity of travelling and working across the UK, and learning from other skilled crafts people, was brilliant. It offered me a chance to progress my skills and knowledge and bolster the career change I had made by gaining an NVQ. I was really excited to be offered the opportunity of being a BCA.
What were the highlights for you?
There were many parts of the programme I would count as highlights. The 3 week summer school, where we had life drawing classes, city drawing lessons, inspiring lectures and fun geometry classes, where we built a yurt; to the live build, where I was allowed to design and carve a greenman for the front façade of the building, were incredible. Working as part of a team, where we were personally invested in the build and played a big part in its construction, was something I'd not experienced before and found really rewarding.
The placements were also invaluable. I had four hands-on placements during the 8 months. My first with Laing Traditional Masonry working in the centre of Inverness to repair the Townhouse, up a very high scaffold from which I could see the highlands and snow-capped peaks. The second with Cliveden Conservation working to repair the gardener’s house at Windsor castle. The third at Gloucester Cathedral, where I carved and repaired a weathering buttress on the south side of the Lady Chapel and lastly at Woodchester Mansion where we worked to repair and fix a buttress. The placements were a unique and vital opportunity to be part of the team, and experience real life on a working site. I had time to be curious, ask questions and learn about the different techniques used by skilled crafts people.
Since graduating I've been working as a stonemason with a commercial London based stonemasonry company, specialising in restoration, carving and repair.
What did you take away from your time on the course (e.g. professional development, lessons learned - whatever it may be!)
The programme widened my understanding of my role as a stone mason. I feel part of a wider heritage industry and see myself as a heritage craftsperson, which I didn't before. Working alongside other enthusiastic and dedicated craft apprentices, really encouraged me to understand the part I could play. Gaining an NVQ also increased my confidence to see myself as a heritage stonemason and definitely helped my move into employment.
The experience of travelling and working around the UK was brilliant. I most enjoyed meeting and getting to know the people I lived with and those I worked with. I met some really great people. One of the main challenges I found was every couple of weeks being the new person on site; not knowing where the toilets were or when people took breaks - feeling like a fish out of water. It was daunting, but a great way to build confidence and understand how it feels to be the new person on site.
What do you think the value of the programme is – why is it worth applying?
The programme has given me a great grounding in my craft, increasing my confidence and enabling my move into employment as a stonemason. It was a rare and valuable opportunity to be taught, to get involved and to learn, all the time whilst being paid, so money worries didn't stop me being able to take part.
I'm currently working on a number of projects, one where I'm carving a quatrefoil in Bathstone to replace a damaged stone on a Victorian building in London. Another where I've carved a finial in Portland limestone for a building in Golden Square, Soho. I've also been working on a big commercial site repairing and fixing large stones on a 1920's building.
Sometimes I've experienced surprised reactions from other trades people, several who've assumed I was my work mates' wife dutifully helping out her husband rather than a stone mason working with her colleague. I've found learning, making mistakes and developing my knowledge in this environment can be tough, but it helps me challenge my own and others assumptions about what I can do.