Edinburgh stonemasons training scheme closes after funding collapse

BOSSES of a renowned training scheme preparing dozens of young stonemasons for a career in the field by coaching them to preserve the intricate brickwork of the Capital’s tallest building say they are “devastated” after the project was forced to cease operation due to a collapse in funding.
St Mary's Workshop, Edinburgh. Picture: TSPLSt Mary's Workshop, Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL
St Mary's Workshop, Edinburgh. Picture: TSPL

More than 50 master masons have graduated from the St Mary’s Workshop since the enterprise began in 1987 after starting their apprenticeships by restoring the external fabric of the 19th century cathedral.

The project ran thanks to funding from bodies including Historic Environment Scotland (HES) and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB), but bosses have now declared it “unsustainable” after a new package could not be agreed, leaving the 12 current trainees in limbo.

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A statement posted on Linked­In read: “We have been unable to secure the funding required to make the model sustainable. The board developed several alternative potential models for the scheme but could not identify one that was sustainable in the long-term without additional funding.”

Provost John Conway told the Evening News he was “extremely disappointed” to see the project end, adding: “When the Workshop started over 30 years ago, it was designed to restore the stonework of the Cathedral and that job is pretty much done. However, we are still devastated that we could not find another model that would allow us to continue training apprentices.

“We are constantly told that the construction industry relies heavily on a steady stream of talent coming through apprenticeship schemes and particularly among stonemasons, where the talent pool is so small, we hoped to continue providing the best possible training.

“But unfortunately, we just cannot find the right model for that to happen.”

The closure of the Workshop comes despite a series of incidents involving falling masonry from historic buildings in the Capital over the last 12 months.

A man narrowly avoided being struck by stonework collapsing off the Greggs building on Shandwick Place in September, while pedestrians on Dalry Road and Princes Street were also injured in similar incidents during 2018.

A spokesman for HES told the Evening News: “HES have been long-term partners and funders of St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop and we are saddened to hear this announcement. St Mary’s have made an important contribution to traditional skills in Scotland over a long period and should be applauded for this.”

Mr Conway added that the majority of apprentices had now been placed in alternative employment within the industry, with talks under way with a number of partners to find roles for the remaining trainees.

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Gillian Cain, CITB head of apprenticeships, said: “In October last year CITB provided funding for apprentices at St Mary’s Workshop which was ongoing when we learned the disappointing news of its closure, and we are currently working with partners to support the apprentices into alternative employment.”