22-year-old Lucas Withey from Bristol – named Apprentice of the Year – has been playing a key role helping to restore one of the UK’s most iconic buildings.
Lucas, who is two years into his studies to become a fibrous plasterer, said he was inspired by his late grandfather. He said: “My grandfather was a very talented man and worked in a whole selection of trades and it was he who really inspired me to go down this route.
“Never did I believe when I started my apprenticeship that I would end up working on such a prestigious project and hugely famous building – made even more exciting by the fact that Strictly performs here – and everyone knows and talks about Strictly!
“This means so much to me and I cannot wait to bring my family back to see everything I have done.”
Lucas is a member of the Hayles and Howe team – specialists in ornamental plaster work and scagliola – who have been responsible for the £1.1M transformation of the ballroom.
He has spent the last six months working on the intricate plaster detail of the ballroom ceiling, helping to repair and restore it to its former glory – and all using the exact same methods which were used when the ballroom was built in 1894.
Lucas added: “It is so sad to think that fibrous plastering is becoming a rare trade. This project here today is proof that this skill is still needed to ensure we preserve buildings like this for future generations.
“I would love to think that I could inspire other young people to follow this line of apprenticeship. It is so rewarding to think I can play such a significant role in bringing this building back to its former glory so it can be enjoyed for many more years.”
Keith Langton, Project Manager at Hayles and Howe, also feels passionately about encouraging more young people to join the fibrous plastering trade.
Keith, who has worked all over the world, says he makes it a priority wherever he visits, to ensure he passes on his skills to others – and in particular the younger generations.
He has taught at building colleges both across the UK and abroad.
He said: “It is so sad to think that this is now becoming such a rare trade.
“I am close to retirement and it really is essential we start to see more young people like Lucas following in our footsteps – otherwise, buildings like The Blackpool Tower Ballroom, really would face an uncertain future. If we don’t preserve the trade, buildings like this would close.
“My job has taken me all over the world and to some incredible places – and I would love to see others having these same experiences. It really is an incredibly rewarding trade.”
Historic England, as the government advisor on the historic environment, takes a leading role in understanding and addressing the heritage sector’s capacity issues.
To address this, Historic Environment Trailblazer, a group of 70-plus heritage sector organisations, chaired by Historic England, has developed apprenticeships.