Sam Powell explains why, 16 years after leaving, he has returned to Wells Cathedral Stonemasons
You did your apprenticeship at Wells Cathedral Stonemasons in the mid-1980s. What’s it like to be back?
It’s been great. I’ve got a very flexible working environment. As contracts manager I’m running sites, pricing jobs and meeting clients. But I can still go out and carve stone. Part of the package was that that would still be open to me.
Has much changed in the 16 years you have been away?
In terms of the apprenticeship, the whole system is different since the introduction of NVQs. Although there’s a similar balance between work on site and day-release to college, there’s more emphasis on aspects such as health and safety. And, of course, the firm was newly established when I joined – it had been formed in 1984 to restore the west front of Wells Cathedral. Now it exports its skills all over the world, from Dallas to Hong Kong.
Did you enjoy the apprenticeship?
Looking back, I should have enjoyed it a lot more. I wish I’d just listened a bit more. But it was great to actually get to work on a cathedral – I worked on the west front and then the restoration of the Chapter House. I was cutting stones for a world-famous building in my first week. Of the 50 apprentice masons at my college, I always considered myself the luckiest.
The fact that I did my apprenticeship at Wells was definitely a big factor in deciding to return. You develop a bond when you train somewhere – I’ve always kept close ties, and it’s quite a close-knit community. For example, even though both my old supervisors have retired, they still call in from time to time.
When you left Wells, you became self-employed. Is it nice to have a steady job again?
When I was self-employed I never had a day without work and worked on some great projects, such as the restoration of Hans Price’s Weston Mercury building in Weston-Super-Mare. But even when you’re in work, you’re never secure. Who knows what’s around the corner? Now I can budget more easily, which is important with three small children. And, now I’ve also got an office, I don’t have to look at the weather forecast anymore …
What projects are you working on at the moment?
We’re currently completely refurbishing a house in Beer, east Devon, which involves using traditional stone from the Beer mines. It’s been quarried since Roman times, and has been used on Exeter Cathedral and Westminster Abbey, but we’re using the last stocks in the country, so it’s quite a big project.
Employment History After a four-year stonemasonry apprenticeship with Wells Cathedral Stonemasons, he spent a year with Tarmac Masonry Products before becoming self-employed. He rejoined Wells Cathedral Stonemasons earlier this year
Qualifications City and Guilds indentured apprenticeship from Wells Cathedral and Bath Technical College
Lives Yatton, Somerset
Family Married with three children