As many workers in the heritage sector now reach retirement age, it is vital that their skills are passed on to the next generation of master craftspeople. This ensures that we can preserve our rich heritage and keep traditional skills alive so they can continue to thrive in the 21st Century. Skills such as traditional carpentry, lime work, thatching, blacksmithing, and stonemasonry are all at risk of being lost forever without intervention.
The Prince’s Foundation’s All-Ireland Heritage Skills Programme – run in partnership with the Heritage Council in the Republic of Ireland and the Historic Environment Division of Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities – is not only is playing its part in securing the future of our heritage, but it’s also providing important employment opportunities for people across both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The 2022/23 programme supported six students on a full time 12-month course, giving them the opportunity to gain practical experience in heritage building skills on industry placements, as well as the opportunity to work towards a Diploma in Heritage Skills Construction. The students’ placements spanned the breadth and length of Ireland, working with some of the heritage sector’s master crafters.
The first cohort of heritage skills students included a decorative furnisher, three blacksmiths and two joiners. They have all flourished on the course and have since found exciting employment opportunities or moved on to further education since graduating.
The students have been great ambassadors for the future of heritage building skills. The programme has had interest from several established craft businesses wanting to provide placements, and the scheme now has a database of almost 90 providers who can help in placing future students – giving them valuable industry training. The programme has been a disruptor in a very conservative sector, with many craftworkers welcoming the new programme wholeheartedly.
Crossing the borders
It shouldn’t be underestimated how the cross-border element of this programme has benefitted and will continue to benefit everyone involved. The programme received interest and encouragement from governments on both sides of the border. This is particularly exciting in the Republic, where they’ve taken a specific interest in heritage craft skills and have hoped to develop a programme like this for many years.
Challenges and learning
Although the first year has been a huge success overall, it hasn’t been without its challenges. Staff changes and teething problems around accommodation and placements for the students were to be expected and an increase in the Cost of Living has meant that bursary amounts for students needed to be reviewed for future years. However, these setbacks have also led to key learning. It was quickly recognised that strong relationships are what makes this programme successful, and it will continue to thrive if students, providers, and the programme leaders continue to pull together in the same direction.
Our funding is now supporting the 2023/24 cohort of students. This upcoming group of trainees will have an exciting mix of craft skills and we can’t wait to hear about their progress over the next year.
*Header image: Ollie Flood and Jack Murphy (Student Blacksmiths)