£4m lottery fund aims to save heritage skills

The traditional arts of harling, pargeting and flint knapping are to be resurrected thanks to a new £4m bursary scheme set up to save vital heritage and conservation skills from extinction.

Future heather-thatchers and hedge-layers are among those that will be trained up through a new Heritage Lottery Fund scheme that aims to provide skilled craftspeople to UK heritage sites desperately short of specialist skills.

The conservation sector is facing a skills crisis, with few young people choosing professional apprenticeships. Of Britain’s Dry Stone Walling Association’s 1,200 members, only 20 are aged 16 or under.

The Heritage Lottery Fund will encourage conservation and heritage organisations to link up with local education and training institutions to set up bursary schemes. It hopes the schemes will encourage people with some form of basic construction or maintenance training to work with master craftsmen to acquire antiquated conservation skills.

“There’s a huge demand for these skills from projects and buildings all over the country,” said Sharon Goddard, Heritage Lottery Fund policy adviser. “These bursaries will not only provide projects with the skilled workmen they need to do vital conservation work, but will also provide employment and training opportunities for hundreds of people.”

She said the bursary programme could cultivate long-term relationships between heritage programmes and local education providers, which could kick-start a renewed interest in conservation skills from young people looking for a vocation or an alternative type of employment.

Modern building methods are often unsuitable for historic and protected properties. A lack of staff skilled in techniques such as harling, the name of traditional roughcast rendering, pargeting (specialist plastering) and flint knapping, the cutting and shaping of flints to be used for buildings, is delaying or halting urgent conservation work on many ancient sites.

Organisations including community and voluntary groups, local authorities, development agencies, and professional and education bodies, can apply to the scheme.

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