When Dan Nicholson set his heart on a heritage skills apprenticeship at Wentworth Woodhouse, the 18 year-old decided there was only one way to find out more about the buildings he could one day be repairing…
He booked a place on a Black Diamonds Tour.
The tour was created by Catherine Bailey, author of the Black Diamonds book which brought international fame for the Grade I Listed stately home once owned by the Marquesses of Rockingham and the Earls of Fitzwilliam.
“I was amazed to hear the house’s story and find out about the people from its past. But all the way through the tour I was taking in all the workmanship and the condition of the rooms,” said Dan, of Herringthorpe.
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust was impressed by Dan’s keenness to learn and he became its first Heritage Skills Apprentice in May 2022.
His three-year training programme is being funded by two charitable trusts – the Radcliffe Trust, which supports the development of cultural heritage and craft skills, and the Leche Trust, a grant-awarding charity which supports the conservation of historic buildings and objects.
Rosemary Ewles, Grants Director of the Leche Trust said: “The Leche trustees regularly fund training in specialist conservation skills but this is the first time that they have supported a three-year apprenticeship in heritage skills. They are delighted to be partnering the Radcliffe Trust in this initiative and will follow Dan’s progress with interest and enthusiasm.”
Benjamin Janes, Secretary to the Trustees of The Radcliffe Trust said: “We are terrifically excited that Dan will be gaining the skills and experience to make a significant contribution to the upkeep of this amazing building over the next several years.”
Dan, who recently completed a Diploma in Electrical Installation at Sheffield College, had seen the job advertised on the Government’s apprenticeships website.
“I was amazed at the variety of tasks in a heritage setting. Learning centuries-old skills which need to be preserved really appealed to me,” he said. “I was over the moon when I landed the role.”
Dan is learning about the huge demands of the entire site from Julie Readman, the Trust’s Facilities and Maintenance Manager, and is gaining additional knowledge alongside heritage tradesmen and contractors who come to work at the house.
He said: “I’m really enjoying everything. So far, my tasks have included weekly maintenance jobs, plus taking down electrical light fittings and switches for rooms being used as period film sets and shadowing a joiner carefully repairing Georgian doors.”
This month ( August), Dan is taking part in the first summer school to be staged by the Hamish Ogston Foundation and Historic England.
The in-work heritage skills and apprenticeship scheme was launched with Historic England last year to tackle long-standing shortages in heritage skills such as carpentry, bricklaying and joinery, painting and decorating, plastering, roofing and stonemasonry.
Over five-weeks, Dan and other participants will learn alongside experts from Historic England, and will have the opportunity to carry out some repairs at two of the mansion’s iconic buildings, the Camellia House and the Ionic Temple, under the tuition of specialist heritage contractors.
Said Julie Readman: “Dan’s apprenticeship is a first for the Maintenance Team at Wentworth Woodhouse.
“It provides a local young person with the opportunity to begin a career in the heritage sector – at one of the most impressive houses in the UK.
“It enables us to grow experience in the team and also pass on what we have learned to the next generation of people who will care for this place.
“Dan is talented, hard-working and a fast learner – and just like the rest of us, the Big House has got him hooked!”
Dan starts a maintenance skills course in September and more courses will follow, giving him a strong foundation in heritage work. He said: “I hope to stay at Wentworth after my apprenticeship and one day would love to be able to set up a work experience programme here, to encourage other young people to develop a passion for our heritage sites.
Wentworth Woodhouse Preservation Trust is committed to creating jobs and offering education and skills opportunities to local people as it regenerates Wentworth Woodhouse.
CEO Sarah McLeod said: “The National Apprenticeship Scheme is a very successful way of bringing young talent into our team. We have two apprentices in our admin and finance teams and are very grateful to the Radcliffe Trust and the Leche Trust for granting us funds to train Dan, who is off to a great start as our first Heritage Skills Apprentice.”