North East high rise and specialist maintenance company, Stone Technical Service Group (STS), is helping a group of construction students from Gateshead College to develop their traditional building skills and learn about historic buildings.
STS has been working with Historic England as part of a partnership between Tyne and Wear Building Preservation Trust (TWBPT) andGateshead College to give students the opportunity to undertake historic building repair work first hand as part of their training.
The students worked with STS’s conservation experts at the two bottle kilns at Corbridge Pottery, well-known local landmarks which form part of a complex of structures associated with the 19th century Walker’s Pottery*. The bottle kilns, which are scheduled monuments, are on Historic England’s Heritage ‘at risk’ register due to their poor condition.
The kilns have deteriorated in recent years and STS has been carrying out a range of preservation works to stabilise them and make them safe for visitors.
STS worked alongside TWBPT on the project which was funded by grant aid from Historic England and Northumberland County Council. Corbridge Village Trust has also helped to improve access to the site.
STS’s experts trained the Gateshead College students in areas such as materials, mixing and preparation, practical application of materials to historical significant structures and finishing and storage of materials.
The Corbridge Pottery is now a rarity and the kilns are two of only three surviving bottle kilns in the whole of the Tyne Valley. Nationally there are only 44 designated bottle kilns, with the majority of these found in the south of the country.
STS recently announced that it is bucking the sector’s seasonal downturn and started a programme of recruitment to cope with an influx of large contracts for 2016 but was concerned about a skillsgap in the North East after struggling to recruit skilled workers in the heritage, lightning protection and high level maintenance sectors.
MD of STS, Dave Stone, said: “It was a real pleasure to work with the students from Gateshead College on this project at the bottle kilns as they showed such enthusiasm for the trade. It is getting increasingly more difficult to attract young people into the heritage sector but it is an area that will always need our skills.
“Buildings and structures, such as the bottle kilns, do deteriorate with age and require repairs and restoration hence we continually work with local organisations to ensure the correct work is carried out to preserve them for future generations. To be able to give the students some hands-on experience was great as they got to see how exciting this profession can be.”
STS has recently secured new contracts with the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Westminster Central Hall, Lumley Castle in County Durham, Barnard Castle Church, Barnard Castle Sixth Form College, Stiller in Aycliffe, Strike’s in Northallerton, various councils around the UK and with English Heritage and the National Trust.
STS is a leader in the field of historic, high level and specialist maintenance as well as lightning protection and industrial steeplejack services and comprises four divisions: – STS Lightning Protection, STS Restoration, STS Maintenance and Facilities Management and STS Conservation.
The growing team of 40 is continually trained to CITB, NVQ and high standards set by heritage organisations.
STS is on course to increase turnover by half a million pounds to £3 million and managers are now projecting growth of over £1 million pounds in 2016 with turnover expected to reach £3.5 million.
* Walker’s Pottery was established to the north of Corbridge around 1840 and produced a wide range of domestic and industrial goods including fire clay retorts (used to produce coal gas to light street lamps), bricks, floor tiles, roof ridge tiles and chimney pots as well as salt-glazed troughs and sanitary wares. An engraving of the 19th century shows the range of industrial buildings which occupied the site.