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Stonemasons carve out their future at Gloucester Cathedral graduation

The future of Britain's cathedrals looks to be in safe hands after the latest generation of skilled craftsmen and women graduated from the Gloucester Cathedral workshop.

All nine students from the Cathedrals' Workshop Fellowship (CWF) programme, sponsored by Gloucester-based insurer, Ecclesiastical, were awarded their foundation degree (Arts) in Personal and Professional Development (stonemasonry) by the University of Gloucestershire.

Two of the students, Paul Synan and James Bayliss, felt particularly at home collecting their awards, having worked as stonemasons at the cathedral while studying for their degree.

They were joined by fellow graduates working as stonemasons throughout the UK, Emily Draper (Worcester), Philip Green (Canterbury), Laura Jeary (Lincoln), Steven Mann (Durham), Christian Sullivan (Salisbury) and Owen Whitfield (Exeter).

The final graduate was Steve Buchan - lead electrician at Canterbury Cathedral - who joined the CWF as part of a pilot aimed at expanding the programme to more trades, with two of the modules adapted to better reflect his development needs and ambitions.

Chris Pitt, corporate responsibility manager at Ecclesiastical, said: "Britain's cathedrals stand testament to the skill and art of the master stonemasons who built them; but like so many of our wonderful heritage buildings, they are not immune to the ravages of time and repairs and maintenance are vital to their survival.

"The CWF has such an important role to play in protecting the fabric of our irreplaceable buildings through developing the next generation of talented craftspeople and the promoting the protection of heritage skills. We are proud to support this ever-growing programme."

Founded in 2006, the fellowship was created as a way of offering apprentice stonemasons a career path and a route to higher qualifications.

The students are nominated by their cathedrals and then interviewed for a place. Those chosen study a range of work-based subjects, including ornamental carving, stone selection and geometry, architecture, archaeology, setting out and fixing, structural engineering and practical conservation techniques. Also included is a tailored personal development programme.

Graduate Paul Synan, 40, who lives in Stroud, started his training as a stonemason at the Building Crafts College in London, having completed a Masters in Ancient History at King's College, London. He learned more about the CWF programme when completing work experience at Gloucester Cathedral as an apprentice with the Prince's Foundation and went on to join the programme.

He said: "It has been fantastic networking and sharing knowledge with masons and other professionals from nine different cathedrals.

"It's a small team at Gloucester and that has enabled me to have ownership of some really exciting projects, including the restoration of the Lady Chapel; from the technical drawing, geometry and measuring to putting into practice conservation techniques and carving skills.

"It's a very special feeling graduating in a place I know so well that has so much meaning for me. I always want to work here, and I feel privileged that my dream has come true."

Frances Cambrook, programme manager for the degree added: "We've now had 27 graduates through this course with numbers growing every time we start a new degree programme. We had 11 students for the latest cohort that started in September 2017.

"Perhaps the best news of all though is that we now have graduates acting as work-based tutors for our new students, as we now reap the benefits of inward investment, with our newly qualified masons giving so much back to the programme."


1. Students outside Gloucester Cathedral celebrating their graduation from the Cathedrals' Workshop Fellowship programme.

2. Graduate James Bayliss in the stonemasons' workshop at Gloucester Cathedral.

3. The cohort of graduates outside the cathedral.

4. Graduates Paul Synan and James Bayliss with (left) tutor Pascale Mychalysin, and (right) Reverend Canon Stephen David Lake.

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