PUBLISHED: 15:45 17 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:21 20 February 2013
Alan Sugar may have made 'apprentices' big news, but in Canterbury, there is a dedicated group of youngsters who wouldn't be seen dead in a power suit, but in whose hands lies the future of the conservation of the Cathedral
With the launch of its 50m appeal in October 2006 to fund a major conservation and development project at the Cathedral, the attention of the world was focused on Canterbury and the iconic building that is the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion.
At the heart of this massive but inspiring project to create a Cathedral restored and fit for future generations is a group of craftspeople who not only perform sterling work on a daily basis, but who are a living link to centuries of tradition. And among them is a handful of passionate young men and women dedicated to the lifelong learning of an age-old skill.
They dont have it easy, and the money isnt great, but they are the future not only of the conservation of the Cathedral but, due to Canterburys status as a centre of excellence, other cathedrals and historic buildings, too.
Apprentice stonemason, Sam Matthews, 23, went to school in Canterbury and, for him, the Cathedral has always been an iconic building. He studied fine art at UCCA, where he specialised
in sculpture, and when he needed work experience, instinctively turned to the Cathedral. I really enjoyed learning the basics of stonemasonry, squaring a block and doing a bit of carpentry, he says.
I kept coming back, because I really enjoyed it, and, luckily, there was an apprenticeship going in September 2008 and I got on the scheme.
Sam, who lives in Faversham, loves the form and fixing side of his job: When you actually fix something youve worked on to the building, thats amazing you know your work is going to live on for at least 500 years. It feels nice to put something back into the Cathedral Ive always loved. Currently working on stones for the library, hell soon be moving on to the stonework on the south east transept and the corona. Its the oldest stained glass in the country, so that will be a real privilege, he beams. Sam even likes heights, which is handy: You use the hoist if youre taking up stone, if not, you use ladders it keeps you fit, he says.
Jen Jordan, who has just turned 25, is the only female stonemason apprentice, but definitely holds her own in the all-male group she is, after all, following in the capable footsteps of head of stone conservation, Heather Newton. A former student at Ashford School of Art and Design, Jen had always been interested in history and ancient buildings and wanted a hands-on job after finishing college. I knew I didnt want to work in an office, so when I saw an ad in the local newspaper, I applied, got accepted and started as
an apprentice in September 2008.
I didnt have any experience whatsoever and I dont know if I have a natural ability, she admits. But its all to do with the tutors, if they teach you right, youre fine.
She has mainly been on-site for the past year, and has no fear of heights in the summer it was lovely, I really enjoyed it, but its a bit harder in the winter and cant see herself moving on any time soon after completing her apprenticeship. It will be good to build up my experience here, she says.
A Folkestone girl, Jen has happy childhood memories of Christmas shopping in Canterbury and school visits to the Cathedral. My degree ceremony was at Canterbury little did I know then that Id be working here!
Ben Swinfield, 24, is the most experienced of the stonemasons, having finished his apprenticeship at the beginning of October. He is now training to be an architectural stone carver and is contracted to the Cathedral for another three-and-a-half years. His interest dates back to his school years. There was a stone-carving festival here in 2003 when I was 17, and I had a little go I wasnt very good, but I could definitely see it as something Id enjoy doing, says Ben.
He applied for an apprenticeship that year but didnt quite make it, so went off to college in Stockwell to study stonemasonry. I kept ringing up the Cathedral for a job, and in 2006 I got a phone call and there was a place for me. So it was lucky I put the effort in and got some experience, he says.
I get a lot of job satisfaction from producing a decent piece of work, I like the end product and knowing my work is going to outlive me. I went
to St Antons and was around the Cathedral a lot as a child and had a real admiration for the stonemasons.
Ive always been interested in the decorative side, its where Ive always seen myself going and I am very lucky that the Cathedral has invested in me I really appreciate that. To have someone think you are really worth investing in has been brilliant.
Seb Marsh, 19, works in a team of four carpenters, and is currently the only apprentice. He started his training last September. I left school and decided to treat my apprenticeship here as my further education, he explains. A general labourer before moving into carpentry, Seb likes everything about his job: I like the environment, the banter and that, at the end of the day, you get that feeling of accomplishment. You can stand back and see youve gone from nothing to being part of history.
Since the Cathedral owns some 140 properties, his days are pretty varied from box sash refurbishments to working on the flooring where the bellringers are, to carrying out repairs at 17b Sun Street, one of the rental properties. Born in Durham, Seb grew up in London and came to Canterbury in 2002 and now lives just outside the city in a place called Adisham. My apprenticeship is four years, including the improver year once youve got your qualification, you work through it and improve your skills, he says.
Will he stay at the Cathedral? Ill definitely stay here for a while to say thanks and give something back, but my long-term goal is to move out to Australia, where my mum lives.
Theres a lot to keep a plumbing apprentice busy at Canterbury Cathedral, and Phil Mummery, 24, is loving the challenge. A Canterbury boy born and bred, he lives in the city, near the university, and started his training in October 2007. I had two young children and was a self-employed car valet and needed more stable work, he explains.
So I paid to go on a private plumbing course at the Plumbing Academy in Tonbridge.
Phil proved an exceptional student, swiftly gaining his Level 2 in plumbing, then managed to complete a 14-hour lead assessment in just two hours and was told he had a natural aptitude for the material. None other than the Lord Lieutenant of Kent, Allan Willett, recommended that a young man of his talents should work at the Cathedral
Ive done the south-east transcept roof and, at the moment, Im doing my gas qualification to become gas safe registered. We have loads of boilers to look after in all of our properties, as well as in the Cathedral and the canons houses, he explains.
But lead remains the work Phil loves, despite having to conquer a few fears along the way: I didnt have a head for heights before I came here, but after working 200ft up on the south-east transcept, laying the lead, all the fear went away, he says.
Its a good thing the fear vanished the roof of Canterbury Cathedral is made up of more than 3,000 lead roof tiles and many of the existing tiles are worn out and the roof is leaking: Phil could be up there some time.
Coupled with this, there are only two plumbers Phil and his boss, who retires in two years, leaving the way for this talented young man to step up as plumbing and heating engineer.
I went to The Archbishops School and we used to come to a service here every year, so its always been part
of my life, says Phil. I can see it from my flat. I would like to stay here as long as I can.