A Graduation Award ceremony for students of the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship (CWF) has taken place in Worcester Cathedral.

Wesley Blyth, a leadworker joiner at Lincoln Cathedral was one of twelve students on the Fellowship’s Foundation degree in Applied Historic Building Conservation and Repair, which is delivered in partnership with the University of Gloucestershire, to receive their awards during a special Evensong service.

The ‘class of 2021’ had a particularly challenging experience on their craft-based programme. Just five months into the two-year course, delivery was suspended during the first Covid-19 lockdown in 2020, when cathedrals were closed and students and tutors were furloughed for up to six months. Thanks to Covid Emergency funding received from Historic England and the Hamish Ogston Foundation, the course was adapted for delivery online and continued remotely for almost a year. However, the practical nature of many of the course modules, requiring visits to cathedrals and other historic buildings, led to further delays and the cohort finally completed their studies, six months behind schedule, in December 2021.

In her address to the graduates, CWF Executive Director Frances Cambrook said: “This course has been a truly memorable one. Over the last two and a half years, you have all shown remarkable determination, fortitude and tenacity in sticking with the course through the most challenging of times. You can all rightly be very proud of what you have achieved.”

Sophie Norton, Sector Skills Manager at Historic England said: “It is immensely satisfying to see this group of students graduate after completing the course in such unusual circumstances. Historic England is pleased to have supported them through this, by providing emergency funding that helped course tutors to deliver their materials and assess the students online. It was an impressive innovation that allowed the course to continue.”

Tony Murphy from Gloucester Cathedral, one of the graduates funded by the Hamish Ogston Foundation said: “this is the culmination of a long, challenging and enriching programme.” Tony Nothard from Canterbury Cathedral added: “With all that we went through with the uncertainties of Covid, I really wasn’t sure that we would finally get here.”

The awards were conferred by Professor Angus Pryor, Head of the School of Arts at the University of Gloucestershire. In his address he said: “You are a unique group of graduates who have chosen to pursue time honoured pathways that will ensure the specialist skills required to maintain and preserve cathedrals are retained. I congratulate each and every one of you and as you now move forward, I hope that you will take every opportunity you are given to build on this foundation.”

The ceremony was followed by a reception in the Cathedral’s magnificent 12th century Chapter House, a fitting location for the graduates and their guests to celebrate their success.