A PROJECT to help conserve and restore the region's traditional pre-1919 buildings has signed up its first apprentice.

Hartlepool’s 18-year-old John Ashurst is the first to begin training under the Heritage Skills Apprenticeship Project, which hopes to protect the distinctive buildings.

The project is being piloted by Hartlepool Council in partnership with the other Tees Valley local authorities, Hartlepool College of Further Education, the private and public sector Tees Valley Local Enterprise Partnership and the Heritage Craft Alliance.

Loading article content

The aim is for up to 40 apprentices from the Tees Valley to be employed by local companies in the heritage and construction sector for the next two years.

Heritage Craft Alliance director Glenn Young said: “The traditional craftspeople currently working in the historic buildings sector have an average age of 55 and in a few years they will be retired. Over the past few decades the UK has lost traditional craftspeople at a massive rate and it is forecast that 40,000 new ones will be needed to replace them.”

Although the emphasis is very much on the traditional, the apprentices will also study the use of modern materials in contemporary construction, to give them the most rounded experience possible.

The teenager will be serving his apprenticeship with Ben Hutchinson of traditional building firm BJS Builders of Greatham, near Hartlepool.

He said: “This is an opportunity which I wouldn’t have missed for the world. The thought of helping to preserve our wonderful old buildings for future generations to enjoy is very exciting and fills me with a lot of pride.”

And in a fitting nod to his own personal heritage, he is using a very special set of tools – the ones his grandfather Lawrence used in his own career as a bricklayer.

Mr Hutchinson added: “One of the key aspects of the apprenticeships is that they include live on-site training on historic structures, which is by far the best way to learn.

“John is very keen and we are really looking forward to playing our part in his training. His Level 3 training will be in masonry, and he will be learning everything from early medieval walling techniques and ‘cob’ building using soil bricks through to the science and practice of using natural lime mortars.”

For more information about the Heritage Skills Apprenticeship Project contact Caron Auckland at Hartlepool Council on 01429-284087 or email caron.auckland@hartlepool.gov.uk