St Helena has a wealth of historic buildings and fortifications but today many are in a sad state of disrepair. It’s not just a lack of money that keeps them that way – there is also a lack of traditional skills to restore them. Recognising that we cannot move forward without these vital skills, the National Trust has teamed up with other island stakeholders to launch the Heritage Construction Training programme. Over the next five years this will train up local craftsmen and provide them with job opportunities.
In late October we brought two internationally renowned craftsmen out to the island – stonemason Henry Rumbold MBE and plasterer Jeff Orton. Between them they have over 80 year’s experience at the top of their professions. The leader of the training team was the Trust’s own heritage advisor Ben Jeffs, now on his third visit to St Helena.
The training course has given over 50 people new skills in traditional arts such as stonemasonry, cobbling and lime plastering. The trainees worked on two practical projects, restoration of the frontage of Essex House, a Grade II listed building in Jamestown, and the repair of the Castle Courtyard.
The response to the training has been excellent, both from the trainees themselves and the general public. There has been real interest in reviving traditional skills and using traditional materials, many of which are cheaply and readily available on the island. A number of public open days have been held, and some of the best stonework has been displayed in local shop windows. Although it will be a number of years before the trainees are fully skilled in these techniques, we now have a group of people with the confidence to use their new-found skills, both on the upkeep of old properties and the construction of new ones.
Next year the Trust and its partners – including the Government, the Development Agency and the training service AVES – hope to run the second phase of the training programme.
The project was supported by funding from DFID.