Last week I attended the International Trades Education Symposium at Lincoln. This is run by a US based organisation the Preservation Trades Network a group of primarily hands on, but still intellectually active, tradespeople and educators. Every other year they hold a symposium and ever 4 years it travels outside the US, lucky for me then to find it only 2 hours from home. First thing I should say it was fun. A great bunch of people who were all committed and passionate about traditional skills and their importance to society. This was a little group of us who found a roof top bar overlooking the Cathedral.
There were 16 presenters over 2 days and most were excelent. I'll single a few out that had particular meaning for me, then share a brief tour of the cathedral workshops. I picked out these presenters either because they just gave inspiring presentations about great schemes or sometimes because they broadened my perspective. Some good speakers were on territory I knew well, others were opening my eyes to new ideas. The papers will be published in full in due course but I'll just share a few of the ideas I picked up.
Anne-francois Cannella her paper was "The importance of the sensitisation of young people to heritage skills" she told us of the work at the amazing sounding heritage centre in Waloon Belgium. The run courses in traditional skills from one day up to masters level. They recognized though that in order to keep new pople coming to learn they had to show them the possibility at a young age. They now get huge numbers of school groups visiting and experiencing first hand trades and crafts. They have become completely oversubscribed.
The main point of his talk was addressing training of the wider building workforce outside of what is normally considered "the heritage sector". Within the sector they have discovered many things about how to best repair traditional buildings but these techniques are not known by white van man, the jobbing builder who does the majority of work on the majority of historic buildings. They set a cut off date of 1919 which is when portland cement and cavity walls start to come in. Prior to that date all buildings were effectively similar traditional construction methods and repairing them with modern materials and techniques can cause significant and costly damage.
Gervais Lynch was a great speaker, check his website out if you are into brick, and if you are not he would inspire you and show you what a wonderful material it is and wax lyrical about the magnificent work that has been done in the past. He spoke passionately about "An historical overview of building crafts, cultural changes and their place in British society" As a specialist brick worker who did a traditional apprenticeship and went on to do a PhD in brickwork he gave a fascinating overview of how trades training has changed over the last 50 years. He is one of those special people who mix academic rigour with hands on knowledge and passion too.
He also gave a positive vision for what we need to do if we value these skills in order to pass them on.
Slides and images of folk at lecterns are boring if you were not there though so lets share instead a tour of the cathedral workshops. They have 9 full time stonemasons from master carvers to new apprentices. Only 8 cathedrals maintain their own works now the rest using contractors.
Specialist lead workshops to do all the roofing and guttering.