Tuesday 27th December 2016

Apprentice Lands "Dream Job" in Durham's World Famous Castle

Apprentice Steven Hay is carving out a new career as a joiner at Durham’s iconic Norman Castle – thanks to a funding package from the city’s freemen. Twenty-nine-year-old Steven beat off stiff competition to win the “chance of a lifetime” – securing a four-year joinery apprenticeship to help with the upkeep of the 11th century fortress.

Steven has joined the woodworking team at Durham University, which owns the castle and is tasked with the upkeep of all the timber within the mediaeval fortification.

The newly created job, with the university’s estates and buildings department, has been made possible by sponsorship of up to £30,000 from the freemen, whose eight surviving trade guilds includes the Joiners’ Company that was established in 1661.

For more than three years Durham-born Steven, who now lives in Chester-le-Street, has worked for an international parcel company at Newcastle Airport.

His latest career switch has finally fulfilled his dream of a craft apprenticeship that had eluded him for a decade.

After leaving Framwellgate Moor Comprehensive he completed a one-year construction trades’ course at Gateshead College which he hoped would secure his future. Although the opportunity of a full-time apprenticeship eluded him at that time he never gave up hope.

“The apprenticeship offers Steven the chance of a lifetime. He is an outstanding candidate who we believe has every chance of completing his educational programme ahead of the four-year schedule,” said Stuart Burns, the university’s maintenance services manager.

“The joinery team is a highly skilled reactive service working on Palace Green within the castle, the library and other university buildings in that area. Not surprisingly restoration, preservation and repairs are particularly demanding and have to meet very high standards,” he added.

Work on castle started in 1072 on the express orders of William the Conquerer and today it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site which also embraces the cathedral. It is home to University College which has 800 undergraduate and 300 postgraduate students from around the world.

The work on key elements of woodwork within the castle that Steven will tackle as part of his training, includes bespoke crafted windows, doors and panelling.

Steven, engaged to be married to Louise who works in the Durham University Business School, said: “Getting an apprenticeship was something I always wanted. But spending my time working and learning within a world-famous site was never part of the dream. This is a fantastic opportunity.”

Freemen’s leader Eric Bulmer, chairman of the wardens, said: “We are delighted to make a contribution that ensures this World Heritage Site is maintained for the benefit of the people of Durham who are extremely proud of their city.

“Steven will be working on a building that ancestors of some of our current members will have helped maintain across hundreds of years. We look forward to welcoming him into our ranks on the completion of his apprenticeship.”



Monday 
13th December 2016

Gift Puts City Workshop at the Cutting Edge

Leaders of Durham’s freemen have handed an early Christmas present to staff and trainees in specialist workshops in the city - a gesture described as “vital” to securing their financial future.

The freemen’s £5,000 gift to the St Margaret’s Centre, a charitable trust, will fund the development of cutting edge technology and enable workshops to step up production of a range of arts and craft items for sale to the general public.

For more than 20 years the ecumenically-backed centre, now based on the site of a former school in Margery Lane, has provided support to many hundreds of attendees recovering from mental illnesses.

Staff and volunteers currently work with more than 60 individuals, providing support to reduce the stigma sometimes associated with mental illness and paving the way for their recovery and, in certain cases, their return to work or further training. The centre’s activities include woodwork, craft, kitchen and cooking opportunities, as well as gardening experience and office skills.

A recent major addition to the joinery workshop has been the introduction of a high-tech computerised cutting machine (CNC) which can produce top-quality, high definition work across a range of items.

The machine cuts pre-designed shapes from wood, metal, foam, plastic, soft alloy and Perspex – some a small as an inch and others up to a metre square. It can even be used for engraving on jewellery or switch to making a range of children’s furniture in pine or soft alloys.



Wednesday
15th November 2016

County Durham Stroke Club

Stroke victims are being kept “on the road to recovery”, thanks to a £1,000 gift from the City of Durham Freemen.

The money, donated to the County Durham Stroke Club, will cover the year-long costs of a vital transport link for handicapped clients who would otherwise be stranded at home.

The club, founded in 2011, currently has more than three dozen members who meet twice monthly on Tuesday afternoons at Framwellgate Moor’s Bede Lodge Social.

Club secretary Mrs Ros Finley explained: “While many of our clients have the benefit of support to get them to meetings, others have access to neither private nor public transport. The help of our three volunteer drivers is critical to a quarter of our members who would otherwise be left housebound.

“The freemen’s generosity, which is the second donation made within the last three years, will this time cover volunteer’s running costs for the 12 months that will not only get clients to scheduled meetings but to the venues of other projects currently in the pipeline.”

The club recently submitted an application for Lottery Fund support and recently received a £2,500 grant from the Community Chest to pay for twice monthly bowling sessions and occasional outings. The County Durham Community Foundation gave £4,000 to cover the fees of two supporting physiotherapists.

The chairman of the freemen’s wardens, Eric Bulmer, said: “It is a privilege to be able to make a contribution to a dedicated group of volunteers who ensure stroke victims are offered support to help alleviate the debilitating threat of isolation. The opportunity of greater social interaction is extremely important on their road to recovery.”



Tuesday
13th June 2016

The Durham Pointers

A dedicated group of volunteers, who point the way for tens of thousands of tourists who visit Durham each summer, have themselves been given a helping hand by the City’s Freemen.

The work of the Durham Pointers, a sixty-strong group who provide directions and information to visitors, last year earned them a Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service. But now they will be even better equipped to meet the demands on their time - thanks to a donation of more than £4,000 from the freemen.
The cash injection will help fund new designs for their familiar pink tabards and a supply of rain wear; 30,000 information leaflets highlighting city centre attractions; a pamphlet on the centuries-old Market Place, including background on the near 700-year history of the freemen; an activity leaflet aimed at young people; and training as well as additional facilities to welcome foreign visitors.

Les Thomson, who chairs the Durham Pointers’ Steering Group said: “The City of Durham Freemen have played a significant role in the city for centuries and continue to promote and support Durham today. We are really grateful for the support they have given us which will help continue what we all see as a valuable service. It is an ideal collaboration as both organisations celebrate Durham’s heritage as well as everything it has to offer today.”
Eric Bulmer, who is chairman of the Freemen’s eight surviving trade guilds, added: “We are pleased to support an organisation that has the passion, enthusiasm and commitment to ensure that our city, with its historical heritage, is shared with visitors from both the UK and abroad, as well as providing a valuable service to our region and local communities.”

The first trade guilds are believed to have been established in 1327 but the first written confirmation of their existence came over a century later. Over the past five years the Freemen have given £100,000 in grants to community projects within the city’s boundaries.
The Pointers’ volunteers each commit to giving at least two hours of their time every fortnight and are on the streets seven days a week between early summer and late autumn.



Tuesday 10th May 2016

LionMouth Rural Centre

A major donation from the City of Durham Freemen has enabled a groundbreaking community project to plan for the future – by stepping back in time.

A £7,000 grant from the freemen has underpinned ambitious new developments at workshops run by the LionMouth Rural Centre, including the revival of the ancient woodland craft of bodging.

Operating from Broadgate Farm, near Esh Winning, on a seven acre site of woodland and meadows that was, until three years ago, largely neglected land, the project offers support and training to local people suffering or recovering from mild to moderate mental, social or learning difficulties.

Up to 60 people a month, whose ages range from 14 to 64, take advantage of placements offering sessions in woodwork, horticulture, art, pottery, conservation and cookery.

Launched with an initial grant from the Tudor Trust, the work is led by two full-time staff and supported by two part-time employees, one of them a catering trade apprentice. Additionally there are 16 volunteer helpers and three sessional supervisors who work under contract. The operation is overseen by a four-strong board of directors drawn from the local area.

A range of plants, herbs and shrubs propagated in the nursery, along with pottery and furniture from the workshops are offered for sale directly to the public.

The freemen’s cash injection will pay for a range of tools to extend the capability and range of the centre’s woodworking sessions. They include a pole lathe and shave horse, two key pieces of equipment used by bodgers - craftsmen who once operated in forest workshops transforming green unseasoned wood into chair legs and other furniture parts.

Additionally the money will provide a new cover for one of the horticultural poly-tunnels, landscaping and strengthening vegetable growing terraces and improving a barn where pottery and glass making kilns are sited.

Project manager Brigid Press said: “The people we serve are those who have been ill, have gone through the system and do not qualify for further care and are not well enough yet to go into employment. Many still suffer from high levels of anxiety and lack confidence. We have also recently taken on a new group of clients with mild learning difficulties who are between home living and moving into sheltered accommodation.

“We try to make as many links as possible with local organisations, community projects, as well as social service and health teams within Durham.

“When we started much of our activity revolved around horticulture and working outdoors. Now we have a large clay and small glass kiln and are experimenting with woodworking ideas and furniture. Ultimately our aim is to be self-sufficient by selling what we produce to the public.”

Chairman of wardens Eric Bulmer, said: “Over the last five years we have provided grants totalling £100,000 to community projects in the city and we feel privileged to have given our help to such a worthwhile organisation.

“Lionmouth’s dedicated staff and volunteers provide a social, learning and caring environment for a vulnerable and often overlooked group within our society. I hope our support will go some way to unlocking the potential of this wonderful site.”



Tuesday 1st March 2016

Durham Musical Theatre Company

Image courtesy of Geoff Kitson

Durham's oldest performing arts company, facing a fight for survival, has been thrown a financial lifeline by the city’s freemen.

The award-winning Durham Musical Theatre Company, formed in 1908, is, staging a programme of glittering three-hour shows at the Gala Theatre in a bid to secure its future.

An ambitious medley from “The best of Britain’s musicals” over the last 130 years will be performed by an 80-strong cast facing the challenge of 15 costume changes as they feature no fewer than 60 numbers in each show.

The production is being supported by a £950 grant from the freemen’s charitable trust, which will cover the costs of programmes, posters and publicity material.

The company’s chairman, Anthony Smith, said: “The freemen’s most generous contribution is one of the biggest single donations we have ever received and is critical to the success of what we are trying to achieve.

“We are a non-profit making amateur organisation and total production costs will, this week, run to about £20,000. We try to keep ticket prices as low as possible so the public will not be discouraged from attending. We are extremely grateful to the freemen for their support.”

The company has staged two dozen productions at the Gala since it was opened in 2002. Their last four musicals received awards from the National Operatic and Drama Association and were widely acclaimed by the audiences who attended. But these four productions all lost money and two pre-Christmas events at Broom Hill Farm near Witton Gilbert and the Methodist Church in Old Elvet were staged to bolster funds.

John Heslop, one of the five members of the freemen’s charitable trust and former chairman of the wardens said: “The freemen are always keen to support local projects and enterprise through its charitable trust. We hope helping the theatre company will not only add momentum to its recovery from recent setbacks but also bring quality entertainment to the people of the city.”



Tuesday 2nd February 2016

The Wood Pile Project

Image courtesy of Tom Banks

Cordwainers’ warden, Joe McElwee, was given a particularly warm reception when he arrived at an eco-friendly community project in Durham to formally hand over an £8,000 donation from the City’s Freemen.

Fire-eater John Wolstenholme, a retired geneticist and now one of a team of volunteer helpers at The Wood Pile in Renny’s Lane, Gilesgate, provided the unusual backdrop when Joe handed over a cheque to the centre’s grateful director Karen Stubbings.

The freemen’s backing has helped secure the future of the groundbreaking scheme that provides a life-line to dozens of disabled and disadvantaged adults.

The Wood Pile, led by three paid members of staff and supported by two dozen volunteer helpers, was launched in July 2014. In its first year its two workshops provided intensive week-day training for 45 out-of-work people – with eleven going on to full-time employment.

The staff also worked with 140 people, ranging from leading officers from public services and private industry to low income families and the unemployed. They attended the warehouse for half-day weekend courses in furniture restoration, joinery taster and team building sessions.

The centre operates on a shoe-string from a 3,000 square foot warehouse and specialises in reclaiming and reusing both rough sawn and graded timber and furniture that would otherwise be destined for landfill.

More than 250 tonnes of discarded wood donated and collected from local authorities, industry, builders and DIY stores across County Durham, Tyneside and Wearside have proved the life-blood of the organisation. At the same time hundreds of items of furniture donated by owners or bought from charity shops provide the opportunity for major restoration before being resold to the public.

Karen, a welfare specialist who leads the workforce said: “The generosity of the freemen helps to underwrite a major part of this year’s wage bill for our part-time support staff and relieves us of an enormous burden.

“Our main aim is to support people who are mentally or physically disabled or disadvantaged and help progress them into or towards jobs. We develop confidence and self-esteem and offer useful transferable skills that will boost their chances of getting into employment.”

The numbers of customers calling at the warehouse continues to grow, helped by advertising in the local media and through social media, including Facebook.

“We hope in the not too distant future that the income we generate from sales of both wood and furniture will make the centre self-sustaining.” added Karen.

Joe, who is also a trustee of the freemen’s charitable trust and himself a highly skilled wood turner, said: “Anyone who visits the Wood Pile cannot fail to be impressed by the energy and determination of the staff and volunteers or the enthusiasm and ability of those under training. We are delighted to offer tangible support that will help achieve their goals.”