Developing the skills and careers of cathedral stonemasons

stonemason using tools

Developing the skills and careers of cathedral stonemasons

Published: 24 January 2024
A grant of £69,550 has been awarded to the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship to support a cohort of students to advance their skills in stonemasonry.

The importance of preserving heritage buildings

Preserving cathedral buildings is important to us as at Benefact Trust, not only because it sustains spiritual sanctuary for congregations and wider community members, but it also ensures that our architectural masterpieces withstand the test of time for generations to come. 

But maintaining these buildings is not an easy feat as they require gifted craftspeople to do works including stonemasonry, leadwork, and glazing. And with declining numbers of craftspeople within these trades, it has become even more important to foster the next generation of talent, enabling us to ensure the preservation of cathedrals and other Christian heritage buildings.

The challenges facing the preservation of heritage skills

Many cathedrals across the country have established their own Works Departments housing a range of craftspeople carrying out essential preservation work. And since 2006, the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship (CWF) has brought thirteen Anglican cathedrals together, including Westminster Abbey, Canterbury, St Paul’s, and York Minster, as members of the fellowship. All sharing a commitment to preserving traditional craftmanship and developing the skills necessary to maintain the national treasures under their care.

But, in recent years, there has been a decline in course offerings for stonemasonry training – particularly part-time courses that allow students to study while continuing employment – a problem that has inhibited the professional development of stonemasons across the country.

The solution the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship is providing

In response to this, the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship has developed a Foundation Certificate (FCert) in Stonemasonry, validated by the University of Gloucestershire and available to their cathedral members. This certificate will allow stonemasons to attain a qualification equivalent to an A-Level in Stonemasonry – advancing their skills and experience while allowing them to continue their employment. 

In a landscape where such opportunities have become scarce, this qualification creates a pathway for continuous learning and career progression. And with funding from Benefact Trust, as part of our Heritage Skills for Christian Buildings grants programme, a cohort of seven students across the CWF membership will be enrolled in the course for the upcoming academic year.

Michael Sheppard, Deputy Director of the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship, and Academic Programme Manager for the Foundation Certificate (FCert): "Over the past year, we've witnessed tremendous development in the Foundation Certificate in Stonemasonry. The grant funding from the Benefact Trust is a game-changer, enabling the Cathedrals' Workshop Fellowship to fulfil the aspirations of students who have patiently waited a solution of this nature. What's truly significant is that this opportunity allows these dedicated students to maintain their jobs while professionally progressing. We are incredibly delighted for them and look forward to delivering this course with utmost dedication and excellence throughout 2024."

Paul Playford, Senior Grants and Operations Officer for Benefact Trust: "It is our pleasure to award this grant to the Cathedrals' Workshop Fellowship. Supporting the preservation and maintenance of cathedrals is important to us, and that starts with ensuring the next generation of qualified craftspeople have the skills to flourish. 

"We look forward to seeing this year’s cohort of stonemasonry students gain valuable qualifications and develop within their careers. We’re inspired by the incredible work of the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship in fostering excellence in the conservation of Christian buildings."

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