As youngsters finish their exams in June and July they will be thinking about the training available to take them on to the next stage of their lives. Stonemasonry can offer a satisfying and rewarding vocation for the right candidates, although training is certainly not restricted to school-leavers.
Most youngsters will not leave school thinking they want to be a stonemason. That is not because they do not want to work stone, it is just that most of them will never have seen stonemasons working, so it will not be on their radar as a potential career.
As a result, it is not usually school-leavers who enrol on the stonemasonry courses available at the colleges that provide this specialist training. It is more usually people who have been involved with the construction industry and have been fascinated by the work of masons they have encountered that are inspired to learn the skills themselves.
But once a career in stone has been embarked upon it offers various paths to a satisfying and rewarding life. It can lead to working on prestigious new build offices and commercial buildings, both fixing the stone cladding on the outside and working on interiors, where natural stone is used as wall linings, floors and worktops of distinction.
Some masonry companies specialise in templating, making and fixing worktops for kitchens, bathrooms, restaurants and office receptions. Some specialise in building houses – and constructing outer walls in random walling stone is a particular skill that requires a careful eye and selection of the right stones.
Natural stone fireplaces are another speciality and can involve intricate carving to replicate the more elaborate styles of previous generations.
There are still more masonry companies working in repair and restoration, maintaining buildings such as houses and churches by repairing or replacing the stonework with matching stone worked in the same way as it was when the building was originally built. At the top end of repair and restoration is conservation of the finest buildings and monuments, which requires specialist knowledge of architectural styles and ways of working.
Another area of stonemasonry is sculpture, both as fine art and the repair and restoration of sculpture on buildings and monuments. The City and Guilds of London Art School has one of the best reputations for teaching stone carving and sculpture.
Some of the work of stonemasons is produced in workshops and factories, where the latest in computerised sawing and shaping technology combines with the hand skills of a mason on the banker (a mason’s workbench) to produce the finished products required. There are jobs for those operating the machines as well as those using hand skills on the banker.
Onsite, the fixer mason secures the stone to the structures being built or repaired.
There are different college courses available at different levels to teach the various skills needed in masonry. There are also courses available to train those already in the trade and to recognise and provide qualifications for the skills that older masons already posses, as NVQs are needed to get the CSCS cards required to work on some projects, especially larger new builds and more sensitive historical renovations.
Those interested in a college course in stonemasonry and / or conservation should explore the websites of the institutions listed below to find the training that can most benefit them.
For those already in the industry and looking to up-skill or gain recognition of the skills they already have, a useful starting point can be Stone Federation Great Britain, which has its own training arm, called StoneTrain.
There are also Training Groups for the stone industry (Natural Stone Industry Training Group) and the heritage sector (National Heritage Training Group), which, again, can help with training programmes.
Both the Stone Industry Training Group and the Stone Federation’s StoneTrain are overseen by Ian Major. The Industry Training Groups are run by the industries but were established by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) to ensure that training met industry requirements.
Ian Major is trying to encourage stone companies to establish more apprenticeships. He says there has never been a better time for companies to recruit apprentices because there are more grants available from CITBâ€ˆthan ever – as much as £11,000 in total – while enrolling apprentices with StoneTrain costs only £5,666.50.
Of course, the apprentices have to be paid and are required to attend a total of 20 days offsite training, usually two days at a time, but it is a good way for companies to ensure they continue to have the skills they need.
One of the main suppliers of on-site assessment and training (OSAT) for the industry working with StoneTrain is Priestman Associates (Mark Priestman writes a regular column about training in Natural Stone Specialist – view one of them here).
Priestman Associates offer a range of courses, recently adding NVQs for site managers (in conservation and building and civil engineering) and contracts operation manager. These are for the managers black CSCS card.
There is more informal training available from craftspeople themselves, a variety of which is provided by The Orton Trust in Northamptonshire. The courses, all held over long weekends and costing just £150, are taken by some of the best craftspeople in their fields and are highly rated by stonemasons themselves, although they also attract complete novices on to them, including construction industry professionals who want to learn more about working stone.
The mix works extraordinarily well and there are few people who do not end the weekends inspired and exhilarated.
Most of the World’s most significant built structures, new and old, incorporate stone. There does not seem to be any indication that they will stop doing so. That means the skills to work stone will always be required and everyone in the industry should be playing their part to ensure those skills are passed on.
Natural Stone Industry Training Group
Tel: 07851 063938
National Heritage Training Group
Tel: 01342 326171
City of Bath College, Bath
Tel: 01225 312191
Building Crafts College, London
Tel: 0208 522 1705
City & Guilds of London Art School
Tel: 0207 735 2306
Tel: 01248 370125
Tel: 01756 791411
Edinburgh’s Telford College
Tel: 0131 559 4000
Glasgow Metropolitan College
Tel: 0141 566 6222
Moulton College, Northampton
Tel: 01604 491131
North West Regional College (NI)
Tel: 028 7127 6000
West Dean College
Tel: 01243 811301
Tel: 01305 764744
Tel: 01904 770400
Tel: 01904 430000
Other training providers:
Crawshaws (floors and worktops)
Tel: 0208 686 7997
Elgin Stonemasonry Training Facility
Tel: 0131 221 6272
National Association of Memorial Masons (memorial fixing)
Tel: 01788 542264
National Stone Centre
Tel: 01629 824833
The Orton Trust (weekend courses)
Tel: 01536 711600
Tel: 0115 975 1880
Scottish Lime Centre (lime mortars)
Tel: 01383 872722
Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
Tel: 0207 377 1644
StoneTrain, c/o Stone Federation GB