As part of the Skills theme of our Sector Resilience Interview series, we heard from Richard Wilkes, Building Supervisor at Hardwick Hall, all about the work of his Specialist Craft Stonemasonry Team and how they are passing on masonry skills and knowledge to two National Trust apprentices.
Read on to find out more.
Richard, tell us a bit about yourself and your role in the heritage sector.

My name is Richard Wilkes and I am the Building Supervisor for the Specialist Craft Masonry Team (SCT) based at Hardwick Hall. I started my masonry career with a Steeple Jack Company in Nottingham, Furse Specialist Contracting, in 1989 as an apprentice and after working for a few other companies I started with the National Trust in 2000. I was based at Hardwick as a stonemason for a number of years before moving on to run the building maintenance team in the Peak District for 12 years, before returning to Hardwick to run the SCT in late 2020.

What can you share with us about your work at the Specialist Craft Centre at Hardwick? How is it helping to address shortages in traditional building and heritage skills?

As well as doing masonry repairs and other heritage work here at Hardwick – including small amounts of plastering and plaster ash floor repairs – the team has now started traveling to other National Trust properties all over the Midlands and East of England region, whether it is to carry out pointing with lime or paving. All of these jobs are excellent experience for our 2 apprentices who are learning a different skill from each job.

What contribution will this make towards the resilience of the heritage sector?

While we are undertaking this work within the team, one of the main aims is to train the 2 apprentices we have here at Hardwick SCT. The apprentices Callum and Teddy are in their second year of a 3-year apprenticeship, through which we are training them in various skills to become stonemasons.

We do so much time with them in the banker shop and so much time with them out on site, so they get a good all-round experience of the skills needed to become an asset for the National Trust, or for any other heritage organisation.

What does long term success look like for the stonemasonry centre at Hardwick? Do you have plans to measure this?

At the moment we have the 2 apprentices, and these should hopefully be kept on at the end of their apprenticeship. If we can keep having apprentices within the team and these apprentices are all kept on, we should have a good-sized team that can undertake large projects either at Hardwick or the wider Trust.

If by the time I retire we have a bigger, well-skilled Specialist Craft Team here at Hardwick than when I started, I will be happy and it will be a good legacy for all my years with the Trust.

Where can we find out more?

National Trust jobs website.

Overall, what do you think is most crucial for ensuring a resilient heritage sector?

The most crucial thing for ensuring resilient heritage sector is training, whether that is apprentices or people already in the sector to improve their understand of heritage buildings. We just need more people with the skills and knowledge to undertake the repairs and maintenance of our built heritage, otherwise we will start to lose what we have.

This Sector Resilience interview was shared by Richard Wilkes as part of our Heritage Sector Resilience Plan activities. Callum Bainbridge, one of the Stonemason Apprentices at Hardwick Hall, also shared his perspectives – read Callum’s interview.

If you’d like to contribute an interview as part of the series, follow the link below to find out more:

Sector Resilience Interviews – Historic Environment Forum