06.09.20 Liveryman John Kendall

George develops heritage skills thanks to Coachmakers’ bursary

Two apprentices studying the Heritage Engineering Technician Apprenticeship programmes at Heritage Skills Academy based at Bicester Heritage and Brooklands Motor Museum, and the Marches Centre of Manufacturing and Technology (MCMT) in Bridgnorth respectively are supported by Coachmaker bursaries. George Barrett is enrolled on the Level 3 Heritage Engineering Technician – Vehicle Coach Building & Trim apprenticeship at Heritage Skills Academy, while Kieran Coleman is enrolled on the Heritage Engineering – Vehicle (Mechanical) Technician apprenticeship at MCMT Bridgnorth. Coachlines will cover Kieran in more detail next month, so for this month, our focus is on George.

To give an idea of how important the historic vehicle sector is to the UK economy, we can draw on the findings of the Federation of British Historic Vehicle Clubs (FBHVC). The organisation is in the process of carrying out a National Historic Vehicle Survey, but the findings from its 2016 survey give us a good indication: That survey showed that the sector is worth £5.5 billion to the economy each year and directly supports employment for more than 34,000 people.

Much of the work is in the hands of comparatively small businesses which share a common theme. The key skills are possessed by an ageing workforce, mostly men, who learned their coachbuilding and fabrication skills in the days before mass produced body parts meant replacement not repair was the usual remedy. It’s a similar picture where mechanical skills are involved. Re-building a steering box, carburettor or distributor are skills that fewer vehicle technicians possess today. At the same time the demand for those skills remains strong, to ensure the UK’s classic car population is maintained in tip-top condition.

George Barrett began his apprenticeship with Heritage Skills Academy at the age of 16, just as Heritage Skills Academy was in the process of launching its Vehicle Coach Building & Trim Technician apprenticeship. In fact, George began his apprenticeship before the course was up and running and initially began the Vehicle Mechanical Technician apprenticeship, then switched to the Coach Building and Trim course as soon as it became available. The apprenticeship is delivered in one-week residential blocks every five weeks (i.e. nine weeks per year). The course lasts for 42 months and is an accredited apprenticeship through the Skills Funding Agency.

George works in the family business run by his father Anthony, which trades as the UK’s Original Barn Find Specialist, based near Wolverhampton. The business specialises in restoring and re-building classic Bentleys, including the building of Bentley “Specials”, many built on the chassis of the Mk VI Bentley, a long-standing favourite for Bentley conversions.

The course at Bicester is an important step for George who will in time become the primary coachbuilder in the business, working alongside his older brother and father. “This course is a fantastic opportunity for George and us as a business to have someone trained the traditional way with traditional methods. Our clients expect a very high standard and I know George will pick this baton up and run with it,” says Anthony. “We start from the floor up with our cars, we strip them down, completely re-build the body and all the bodies are bespoke, so I wanted him to learn that.”

When at Bicester, George is tutored by Andy Kelly, Coachbuilding and Trim Director at Heritage Skills Academy Bicester.

The apprenticeship bursary is exceptionally useful to both George and the family business. The bursary helps to cover travel and accommodation costs for when George attends Bicester Heritage each block. Since the business is small the bursary helps to offset the cost of taking on an apprentice. “I would never have been able to afford to run an apprenticeship alongside what we do, so for us to get the help through the Coachmakers is just fantastic,” says Anthony.

“Heritage Skills Academy was established in 2016 to combat the lack of new engineers entering the industry and preserve the skills and knowledge of an ageing workforce,” says Heritage Skills Academy Managing Director John Pitchforth. “Since then we have recruited, and now train, 82 apprentices on behalf of the UK’s leading vehicle restoration and preservation specialists.

“We are privileged to operate from two iconic locations, Bicester Heritage in Oxfordshire and Brooklands Museum at Weybridge in Surrey. Both sites inspire learning and embed the apprentices within a world of engineering achievement.

“We teach old-school engineering skills and knowledge and combine it with cutting edge technology. We create engineers who can think outside-the-box and find innovative solutions to complex engineering challenges.”