St Mary’s, the first major Cathedral to be built from new in Britain since the Reformation, was built to the design of Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1879. It has strengths that witness to the spirit of that age: it is massive, the spires dominate the Edinburgh skyline, and it rejoices in a wealth of ornate and symbolic detail. A bridge between then and now, and from now to the future, it challenges the splintered vision of our day by reminding us that there are alternative models of keeping faith with the rest of our environment and of providing accessible, fulfilling and purposeful training for all.
In 1985 it became clear that the Cathedral fabric, by now just over a hundred years old, was in urgent need of repair and restoration; and in 1987 St Mary’s Cathedral Workshop, recognised as an exemplar for the UK, was established. The twin aims with which the Workshop was founded were the restoration of the Cathedral and the provision of training in the skill and crafts associated with the maintenance and restoration of historic buildings – Young Hands for Old Skills – and these remain our priorities.
The plan is to spread the work of stone restoration over a period of twenty five years. In the first 20 years of operation the Workshop has completed stonework restoration of the Chapter House, the North Choir Aisle the Central Spire, and the South Transept. Work on the North side of the Cathedral is currently in progress.
In recent years there have been, at any one time, between eight and twelve apprentices working to two master masons in the Workshop. The apprentices serve a four year apprenticeship and achieve a Scottish Vocational Qualification. Their employment record is excellent: over the years, 22 apprentices have completed their training with the Workshop, and all have found ready employment in the trade.
A generous grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund meant that the entire Cathedral roof was re-slated and for the first time in many years we became completely water-tight!
The Workshop is supported substantially and generously by Historic Scotland, but has to rely every year on donations from other sources for one third of its costs – a sum in the region of £80,000 annually. A number of charitable trusts have given us tremendous support, but we are always in need of new donors and welcome gifts great and small, both from trusts and from individuals.
We believe in the Workshop Project and know it brings hope to some of our young people and creates skilled young masons for whom there is a great need, to maintain and restore our historic and religious buildings. Your support will restore a magnificent place of worship which has stood elegant and reassuring for more than one hundred years.
If you think you can help, or would like more information, please contact the Workshop Appeal Secretary, Sarah Grotrian via the Cathedral Office (email@example.com; tel. 0131 225 6293).