| 13.9°C Dublin

Dry stone walls to be built by ex-prisoners in UK drive to preserve traditional skills


It is an ancient craft that dates back to the Iron Age, and characterises across vast swathes of rural Britain from the Cornish countryside to the Scottish Highlands.

Now dry stone walls will be built by ex-prisoners in the UK as part of a £10 million drive to stop traditional skills dying out.

A new pot of funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will be used to support training up a new generation of workers in traditional crafts, such as rigging, repairing traditional wooden sailing ships, and working on heritage railway attractions.

The money is aimed at addressing critical shortages in the sector, and will be used to train a new and more diverse group of heritage workers, including ethnic minorities, women, young people as well as ex-servicemen and ex-offenders.

Local people will be able to train as shipwrights in traditional skills which are under threat of being lost, such as rigging and repair of wooden ships, while trainees from areas of high unemployment will learn how to overhaul steam locomotives and ships.

Wildlife organisations will help train youngsters, those with disabilities and people with an ethnic minority background to learn nature conservation skills.

Museums will be using a share of the funding to teach cutting edge heritage skills, including conserving and digitising collections and engaging with the public.

Dry stone walling in Britain can be traced back three and a half millennia, to the village of Skara Brae in the Orkneys, and the Iron Age brochs of northern and western Scotland. 

Dry stone walls, built without any mortar or cement, are common across vast sections of the British countryside including the Lake District, Cornwall, Wales and Scotland. They are most prominent in northern and western Britain, and often at the higher altitudes. 

They are - along  with hedgerows - one of the most commonly used field boundaries in England and their prevalence is a legacy of the medieval shift in farming patterns, away from feudalism and towards enclosure of common farming and grazing land.

The £10.1 million funding, which is being shared between 18 projects across the UK, is the latest investment by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) - which has already put £47 million into the Skills for the Future programme since it launched in 2009.

While it is not a job creation scheme, the Skills for the Future programme has seen 75 per cent of trainees securing a job in heritage following their training, HLF said.

Sir Peter Luff, chairman of the HLF, said: "There is no quick fix to this problem. The heritage sector has been slow in widening the profile of its work force and as a consequence is on a long-term learning curve.

"We wanted to build on the legacy of our existing targeted skills funding - £47 million to date - and make a further financial commitment of just over £10million.

"Why? Because we know the Skills for the Future programme can drive successful and lasting change. It's simple yet highly effective: trainees paired with experts gain access to knowledge plus practical, paid, on-the-job experience."

The funding is part of a wider commitment in the Government's Culture White Paper to address skill shortages in heritage.

Heritage Minister Tracey Crouch said: "Investing in new heritage talent will ensure we build a more sustainable sector, protect our treasured history and continue to attract visitors from across the globe.

"I'm delighted to see money raised by National Lottery players being used to