Thanks to funding from Pilgrim Trust, the National Trust at Mount Stewart has set up a garden apprenticeship scheme with South Eastern Regional College to cultivate local skills.
Pilgrim Trust, a charity founded in 1930 by the American philanthropist, Edward Stephen Harkness, awards funds to preservation projects, particularly those aimed at preserving the fabric of architecturally or historically significant places and artefacts.
Situated on the Ards Peninsula, Mount Stewart is one of Northern Ireland’s most important heritage sites. The garden was created by Edith, Lady Londonderry, a self-taught and highly gifted gardener, between 1915 and 1959 and is home to one of the most extensive plant collections in the National Trust.
Mount Stewart Gardens Manager Paul Stewart told us: “Finding people with the right skills and dedication to work in a complex heritage garden and busy visitor attraction is always a challenge but in an area of high unemployment it needn’t be.”
Paul elaborates: “With the garden flourishing and expanding into new areas the demand for skilled, dedicated people is increasing and we saw this as an opportunity to grow our own talent in what is a very unique place.
“As a charity we are reliant on the generosity of our members and supporters, and we were delighted that the Pilgrim Trust provided 75% funding for a garden apprenticeship scheme here at Mount Stewart. With this scheme we can provide paid, bespoke on the job training for two years working in tandem with South Eastern Regional College who will be delivering tuition in the Royal Horticultural Society level 2 for our apprentices.”
The first apprentice, local Ards man, Kenneth Skelton, has just been employed and the National Trust will be looking to employ another apprentice next September.
Kenneth told us: “I originally came from a retail background and have been out of work for a number of years. I always loved gardening and my first encounter with Mount Stewart was under the Steps to Work scheme placement. I fell in love with the place and on completing that placement went on to study my VRQ in horticulture whilst continuing to volunteer at Mount Stewart.
“It’s more than just the amazing plant collection. Mount Stewart has a magical feel to it and I understand Edith, Lady Londonderry’s fascination with the other world which she expressed everywhere in the garden’s design.
“This place really is an asset for the Ards area and I’m thrilled to have been appointed as an apprentice here thanks to both the National Trust and the Pilgrim Trust.”
Mount Stewart Garden is open all year round. The House is currently undergoing a £7million conservation project which will secure the legacy of this special building for future generations to enjoy. The house re-opens in spring 2015 for visitors to enjoy in all its splendour.