03.06.21 Liveryman John Boyes, Charity Committee member - Automotive Heritage

The Master visits Heritage Skills Academy

In May, The Master and Liveryman John Boyes were invited to visit the Heritage Skills Academy (HSA) at Bicester Heritage and HSA’s sister training operation at the iconic Brooklands site – the birthplace of British motorsport and aviation.

The Livery has provided £7.5k from its charitable funds to support the travel, accommodation and subsistence costs for three heritage skills apprentices whilst away from their full-time vehicle restoration employment, on HSA’s four-year block release training programme. In this way, Coachmakers’ support has made a real difference in enabling these three young people to follow their ambitions which otherwise might have been financially out of their reach. During both of these visits it was a privilege to meet the Academy Principals, John and Janice Pitchforth, some of the tutors and apprentices and to see at first hand the training undertaken and the facilities provided.

For the first visit in early May, The Master and I went to the Bicester Heritage site, an old WW2 RAF station, now a centre of excellence for many and varied historic car activities and businesses. Here we saw the first skills academy set up by John and Janice, focusing on mechanical skills. Unfortunately, it was ‘exeat’ and we were unable to meet the apprentices, but we were able to get a good insight into the training programmes on offer and the structure and management of the Academy.

Later in May we went south to the inspiring setting of the HSA’s Brooklands location, where we were met by Owain Johns, Development Director, who gave us a tour of its training facilities. The main body of the impressive workshop and training facility was converted from an existing hanger into three training areas for mechanical work, body and coachbuilding activity and trim, at a cost of some £65k. The workshops are well and appropriately equipped, including industrial leather sowing machines for the trim section and “English Wheels” for creating complex body panel shapes, in the body and coachbuilding section.

Most importantly we had the opportunity to speak to several of the apprentices. This was a real treat and gave a sense of what is being achieved throughout HSA. All the apprentices were very enthusiastic in what they were doing, from learning and practicing metalwork/coachbuilding skills to assessing and budgeting restoration projects. Two of the young people who we spoke to, James from Bristol and Max from Cirencester, were very positive about the training, and the residential block release programme in particular. Both were engaged on the coachbuilding course, both were bright-eyed, confident and knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to have met them; the consensus was that with the right training and mentoring, that they will both go far in their chosen careers and become valuable contributors to the historic vehicle world.

This was a most fulfilling visit and reassuring to see that our charitable funds are well placed. The hospitality was modest; we were provided with a simple sandwich and a cup of coffee for lunch, however it was reassuring to see that HSA keeps a close eye on costs!