Ben HornbergerCarpenter Ben Hornberger is among a new generation of skilled craftspeople helping to maintain the UK’s most historic buildings.

Ben, pictured left, has just completed the prestigious William Morris Craft Fellowship scheme, run by the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), with grant support from the Ernest Cook Trust. The initiative was launched 30 years ago to breathe new life into the maintenance of our built heritage – Ben was its 100th Fellow. 

The fellowship helped launch his career as a self-employed specialist carpenter. Recent projects include surveying an Elizabethan wood-panelled ceiling in an historic house in North Devon and renovating the roof on a cob building in Normandy.

“I’m fresh off the course and I’m just starting to appreciate the difference it’s made,” said Ben, aged 27. “I’ve had the chance to study my craft in great detail, and it’s given me really good insights into other heritage crafts.

“Often in my work I have to call on specialists in other trades, like plasterers and stonemasons. The course helps me speak their lingo and it’s been great for networking.”

There is growing interest in craft building skills as people turn to more sustainable and traditional construction methods. But, ironically, these skills are also under threat because of a lack of young people training in them.

SPAB’s prestigious fellowship scheme takes on three or four young craftspeople each year. Any trades people working in historic building conservation can apply.

Joe Coombes-JackmanThe six-month course broadens their experience and knowledge, with a varied itinerary of significant conservation projects, workshops and studio visits.

Other ECT-funded Fellows last year were blacksmith Joe Coombes-Jackman, 22, pictured right, and stone conservator Emma Teale, 36. The course took them from Cornwall to the Orkney Isles to see good building practice.

“The Fellowship has been an amazing, eye-opening experience,” said Joe, from Harpenden in Essex. “I’ve had the chance to learn all the heritage crafts associated with blacksmithing, and visited some of the country’s most incredible buildings, some of which are off limits to the public.”