A near-£29 million donation will fund training and apprentice wage costs in a bid to rescue dying heritage craft skills in the UK.
The donation, made by philanthropist Hamish Ogston, will provide a “sustainable, future-facing ecosystem of heritage conservation” to the sector, he said. It will fund training for up to 2,700 people across the UK and Commonwealth, and will “ensure the survival of some of the greatest historic buildings around the world”.
That will come as a welcome boost to a sector struggling to recruit apprentices in England due to low demand and high training costs.
Ogston’s donation comes as FE Week revealed earlier this year that only a quarter of heritage crafts in England, some of which have a history of apprenticeships going back centuries, have government-approved apprenticeship standards today. Many of those, despite being approved, are not being delivered due to a lack of demand and high-cost training facilities.
Difficulties finding training providers and end-point assessors have also hit heritage crafts in England, which has left many of them “endangered”. Waning demand leads to training providers pulling out of heritage crafts as running them becomes unviable.
For instance, apprenticeships in sectors including clockmaker, assistant puppetmaker, bookbinder and blacksmith have all failed to recruit any apprentices through the government’s apprenticeship system in England.
The donation is the largest single financial gift to the sector, according to the Hamish Ogston Foundation, and will fund training costs, and apprentice and teacher wages through projects run by several heritage organisations: English Heritage, Historic Environment Scotland, Commonwealth Heritage Forum and the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship.
English Heritage received £11.2 million which will fund more than 50 seven-year courses in flint and stone masonry, and heritage brickwork.
It will also fund a new heritage skills training centre in East Anglia and will “safeguard” 34 castles and abbeys in the East of England. They include Canterbury Cathedral and Bury St Edmunds Abbey.
Gerard Lemos, chair of English Heritage, said that though the East of England had been “historically defined” by the flint trade, “that’s no longer happening, and both the buildings and the people have been the poorer for it.”
“Our new skills apprenticeships will provide a radical new approach to address the decline,” he added.
English Heritage will also boost outreach across East Anglia’s schools and post-16 sector too, which will include training sessions for 450 FE construction students.
In total, 19 countries across the Commonwealth will benefit from the fund, including India, Fiji, Bermuda and Ghana.
The fund will help maintain historic buildings including the Herbarium at the Botanic Gardens in Kolkata, India, and New Zealand’s Christchurch Cathedral, which was damaged by an earthquake back in 2011.
Hands-on training at 20 sites outside of the UK will also be funded – with £12.3 million going to other parts of the Commonwealth.
Historic Environment Scotland will have access to £5.2 million of funding, which will fund 100 training places north of the border.
Ogston, the philanthropist, said the donation would “establish a coherent and accessible training infrastructure for those looking to learn skills in heritage conservation.”