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Our work with English Heritage

Shuttleworth College and English Heritage are working with apprentices on a restoration project that is reviving one of Britain’s largest and most important 'secret' gardens at Wrest Park in Bedfordshire. With funding from a Heritage Lottery grant, the restoration project and Apprenticeship programme began in 2010.

Wrest Park

Wrest Park and the restoration programme

Corinne Price (Upper Gardens and Apprentice Manager, English Heritage, Wrest Park) explained that English Heritage have now taken over full responsibility for the apprenticeship:

“English Heritage is committed to the Apprenticeship programme, which was initially funded by the project’s Heritage Lottery grant and helps address a recognised skills gap in horticulture.

Wrest Park is unique in that it showcases over 300 years of garden history across 90 acres of wonderful landscape. The journey through garden history is the legacy of each generation of the De Grey family who respected and maintained what the previous generation had created while placing their own individual stamp on the gardens. The impressive designs of Capability Brown in the 18th century can be seen today and we have uncovered layers of garden design that are now restored for people to enjoy.

Wrest Park is an impressive example of garden design and history, ranging from Thomas Archer’s pavilion, constructed in 1709-11, to the formal gardens around the French-inspired mansion House built by Thomas, Earl de Grey in the 1830s.”

We asked Corinne about the apprenticeship programme and the relationship between English Heritage and Shuttleworth College:

Why did English Heritage choose Shuttleworth College for this training?
"We wanted to put our apprentices through the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society) Diplomas to Level 3 and Shuttleworth College provides that training. The location of the College is also convenient for our apprentices and that was an added bonus.

The RHS Diploma is the accepted standard in the horticultural world because of the knowledge and understanding that this course gives. It is a valuable qualification on CVs and should help the apprentices when seeking work after their training here."

What is your experience of working with Shuttleworth College?
"We have good communication channels with Shuttleworth College and that is very helpful. Shuttleworth College has also advised on particular horticultural issues, such as the pest control in our newly-restored conservatory. We have a strong working relationship."

What is the benefit of this training to Wrest Park?
"We have an incredible garden team that has been working here for 30 years, and their hard work and expertise in maintaining the gardens has made a significant contribution to the restoration programme.

The apprentices share their ‘fresh’ horticultural knowledge with the garden team and around 40 keen volunteers taken on since the project started, and they work together pooling knowledge and experience. It is a powerful combination."

What has been the impact on apprentices and staff?
"It is not often you get the chance to work on a restoration project like this. These opportunities are often a one-off in a career span. The project has included surveying and archaeology – treading the ground for the location of original garden features.

The restoration project is bringing the 90 acres at Wrest Park back to life, with attention to historic design and detail, and the six apprentices working with us are a key part of that."

Were your training objectives achieved?
"Yes, we have achieved our training objectives. English Heritage is concerned with learning about heritage, context, conservation and restoration. Theory and practical work is then applied in specialist areas. The apprenticeship training programme delivers that by providing theory training at Shuttleworth College and practical work at Wrest Park."

The benefits of the apprenticeship programme to Shuttleworth College

Paul Labous (Lecturer in Horticulture at Shuttleworth College):
“Apprentices at Wrest Park gain all the practical aspects of horticulture and learn the theory at Shuttleworth College that is related directly back to the practical work of the project.

They also share their enthusiasm for the Wrest Park project with students at Shuttleworth College, where there is a diverse learning forum. Our students bring to the College a wide range of skills and experience and sharing knowledge and experience benefits everyone.

The RHS Diploma is recognised across the globe and indeed many of our students have gone on to a wide range of careers world-wide.”

Apprentices comment on their experience

Jo Laybourn, an apprentice working on the Wrest Park restoration project, said that she was keen to work at Wrest Park after reading an article in English Heritage magazine and says “it is a truly inspiring place to work. We study one day a week at Shuttleworth College and Paul Labous responds to emails quickly and with enthusiasm. Shuttleworth College provides a very nurturing environment for study.

I joined Wrest Park as an apprentice after being a stay at home parent looking after my children. The sense of team spirit is wonderful and the job keeps me fit in mind and body. I do feel that these are the best days of my life. It is fun and there are so many strands including going behind the scenes to meet others working in gardens. I have an MSc in Environmental Management and adding the RHS Diploma to my CV will open up career opportunities with so many different branches of horticulture and industry to consider.”

Rob Burstow, Apprentice working on the Wrest Park restoration project, explained that he heard about the apprentice scheme whilst studying at Shuttleworth College, and applied. He added: “It has been a valuable experience for me and meant that I could continue studying at Shuttleworth College for RHS Diploma Level 3."

“The RHS qualification and experience of working here will boost my CV. I have a degree in journalism and see my career path as working in journalism for a horticultural publication. The experience of studying and working in horticulture at Wrest Park is invaluable.

We learn the theory at Shuttleworth College and bring it to life with practical work at Wrest Park. I find restoration work fascinating and important.”