It's a good time for a career in stone

Under new Manager Peter May, Orton Trust is spreading its wings and trying to attract students from outside the industry. If you are a stonemason looking to advance your skills, perhaps in carving or lettering, or a novice interested in learning the basics, the weekend (actually Friday to Sunday) courses of Orton Trust have a lot to offer. Visit

The stone industry is pushing on with the creation of a Trailblazer apprenticeship for stonemasonry. The latest meeting of the Natural Stone Industry Training Group (NSITG), which is developing the apprenticeship, was held on 18 May at the Building Crafts College, where the southern heat of the UK Masonry Skills Challenge was being held at the same time.

Trailblazer apprenticeships are the latest move by the Government to get sectors of industry to take control of training to produce the skills they need. The Government intends to claim exclusivity on the word ‘apprenticeship’ in an effort to make it more transparent exactly what an apprenticeship is and what it means in terms of the skills acquired.

The NSITG proposes eight pathways to the successful completion of a stonemasonry apprenticeship with a Level 3 qualification at the end of it. The pathways are:

  • banker mason
  • stone fixer
  • memorial mason
  • stone flooring & tiling
  • stone cutter
  • stone carver
  • facade preservation
  • heritage mason.

Among other criteria, these apprenticeships will have to include off-the-job training and a final exam. That will presumably involve the colleges, although they have expressed concern about the NSITG proposal for a two-year apprenticeship (the shortest time allowable under the scheme) with a Level 3 outcome from the exam. The colleges say Level 3 takes three years.

Michelle Turner, of Essex company Stone Restoration Services, has headed the development of the stone Trailblazer and on 18 May, which was the NSITG annual general meeting, was elected chair of the training group. She admits: “Trailblazers are a little bit of a mess at the moment.”

Michelle says she does not believe the stonemasonry Trailblazer will be introduced before 2018.

The Natural Stone Industry Training Group was created and is funded by the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), which is itself in a state of flux as the Government considers its future. It has just announced it is selling its awarding body, CSkills Awards, which works with training and assessment centres to develop construction qualifications.

Emma Dexter, who heads the stonemasonry and carving courses at Moulton College.

CITB chiefs have decided it is a not a core business. It is being sold to another industry awarding body, NOCN. The sale should be completed on 1 August, when 24 staff will transfer their employment to NOCN. CSkills Awards will continue to provide services as normal under the new ownership.

In the meantime, CITB has changed the criteria for its training groups, requiring clearer aims for training outcomes and reportable measures for having successfully achieved them. Even before these changes were introduced it withdrew its financial support of the National Heritage Training Group because it did not feel it was delivering enough training. The Group continues, however, and last year was awarded £779,200 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to run a bursary scheme.

The NSITG annual meeting opened with training officer Ian Major asking if the Group wanted to continue under the new requirements. Members felt it should.

Until the new Trailblazer is completed, existing training arrangements continue. Apart from apprenticeships, there are all sorts of courses available in stone skills, including on-site assessments and upskilling courses provided by Stone Federation Great Britain’s own training arm, StoneTrain.

Colleges and other training centres have also encompassed on-site assessment and developed new ways of learning, including short courses.

Moulton College is catering more for apprentices, with both Emma Dexter, who runs the courses, and Richard Nobiss, who joined her seven months ago, being qualified assessors for apprentices.

The college is also now offering its students up to 152 hours work experience per student, as long as their English and Maths commitments allow it. This is a new construction initiative at the college, bridging students’ course knowledge with onsite experience, preparing them for their future employability in this specialist trade.

Some trainers have expanded their offering to those who want to produce masonry or carvings as a hobby, like the Love2Learn students at Bath College, where the masonry workshops are moving out of the centre of the city during the summer holidays and into new, purpose-built premises on the edge of town.

The Orton Trust in Northamptonshire is favoured by the trade for its Friday-to-Sunday courses, both because they require minimum time away from work and because the tutors are some of the industry’s best craftspeople with practical knowledge of the work. The fact that a three-day course is only £170, thanks to subsidies from the Trust, also helps.

Orton Trust has been managed  for many years by Richard Tyler but he has now handed over to Peter May, who trained as a teacher and spent 25 years in sales and marketing before moving back into teaching for the past 15 years in business, travel and tourism. Having now retired, he had time to take on the role at The Orton Trust, although he is also secretary of Kettering Rugby Club. “I see huge possibilities for people coming here for a hobby, as well as people looking at it from a professional point of view,” he told NSS. “Stonemasonry is having a renaissance.”

There is more about training at

There is financial help available from bursaries for people who want to train in stonemasonry, carving and conservation. Colleges can often help students apply for help from organisations such as the Mason’s Livery Company. For those who want to study their craft in greater depth, the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) invites applications for funding. Pictured right is current QEST Scholar John Sutcliffe on a two-year carving course at City & Guilds of London Art School. Find out about QEST at



Mason Gregor Alcorn is one of this year’s four William Morris Craft Fellows

One of the most impressive entries you can have on a CV is a William Morris Craft Fellowship from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Britain’s oldest building conservation body. SPAB was set up by William Morris to oppose the destructive restoration carried out by the Victorians and promote what these days are known as ‘conservation repairs’.

A select few craftspeople are chosen each year to improve their heritage skills thanks to SPAB funding. The scheme runs in parallel to SPAB’s Lethaby Scholarship for architects, surveyors and engineers. These are unique educational schemes designed to nurture and develop the hands-on skills needed to care for old buildings during a year-long tour gaining broad, practical experience and knowledge on live sites.

Among this year’s William Morris Craft Fellows is stonemason Gregor Alcorn, who works for Historic Environment Scotland on Shetland.

Gregor is 28. He has a BSc (Hons) in Environmental Geography from the University of Stirling and Advanced Craft Stonemasonry / SVQ Level 3 Stonemasonry from Elgin Conservation Centre.

After leaving school in Cheddar, Gregor moved to his birth place, Stirling, to study for a degree in environmental geography. At university he saw a video featuring SPAB Fellow and stonemason Graham Campbell at the Elgin Conservation Centre. Independently, he took short courses in stonemasonry at Lincoln with a former cathedral mason to see if he had a good eye.

After graduating, he gained building experience through work exchange websites abroad. He worked on straw bale houses and a watermill in France before being offered an apprenticeship with Historic Environment Scotland in Shetland.

Gregor is a member of the Mountain Bothies Association, which helps repair shelters in remote parts of Britain for walkers and climbers. He carves for pleasure and participated in the European Stone Festivals in Freiburg (2014) and Salzburg (2016). He has twice been a member of the best stonemasonry college team in the UK Masonry Skills Challenge and twice been in SkillBuild finals at the NEC, winning gold in 2016.

With Gregor on this year’s Fellowship are stained glass conservator Jack Clare, carpenter Dale Perrin and plasterer Paul Walters.

The Fellowship is for people who already have craft skills and want to expand those skills and their knowledge. If you would like to find out more about how to bid to become one of next year’s William Morris Fellows, you can download a Fellowship Information Pack from

For more information on training in the stone and conservation sectors...

Natural Stone Industry Training Group
Tel: 07851 063938


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

Edinburgh’s Telford College
Tel: 0131 559 4000

Elgin Stonemasonry Training Facility
Tel: 0131 221 6272

Glasgow Metropolitan College
Tel: 0141 566 6222

Moulton College, Northampton
Tel: 01604 491131

West Dean College
Tel: 01243 811301

Weymouth College
Tel: 01305 764744

York College
Tel: 01904 770400

Other trainers

Building Limes Forum
[email protected]

Crawshaws (floors and worktops)
Tel: 0208 686 7997

NAMM (memorial fixing)
Tel: 01788 542264

National Stone Centre
Tel: 01629 824833

National Heritage Training Group
Tel: 01246 252363

The Orton Trust (weekend courses)
Tel: 01536 711600

Priestman Associates
Tel: 0115 975 1880

Scottish Lime Centre (lime mortars)
Tel: 01383 872722

Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings
Tel: 0207 377 1644

StoneTrain, Stone Federation GB
Tel: 01303 856103