Training future heritage engineers in a pioneering apprenticeship scheme

The Heritage Skills Training Academy is a well-established part of the Railway's operation, and currently receives the majority of its funding from the SVR Charitable Trust.

Within the Academy's four-year scheme, a number of young people work and learn across the different departments; locomotive running, boiler shop, carriage mechanical, and carriage bodywork.

Initially, apprentices rotate around these departments to gain experience and knowledge across a range of trades. After two years, they're assigned to one of the departments to pursue a specialisation.

As well as intensive on-the-job training, apprentices work towards nationally-recognised NVQ 2 and 3 level qualifications.

As the apprentices gain experience, the Railway is able to use their skills to take on outside contract work for other heritage organisations. This brings in additional income to the Railway, all of which can be channelled back into restoration projects. For example, one of our apprentices was involved in servicing two batches of locks for the Kent and East Sussex Railway.

The Railway also trains apprentices on shorter courses in specialised areas such as heritage signal maintenance and boiler shop work.

It costs £17,000 to fund an apprentice for one year, and the Railway relies on the generosity of the Charitable Trust's supporters to fund this essential aspect of its operation.

Could you help to develop and support the SVR's future heritage engineers?

"When I joined at 16, I was the SVR's youngest apprentice. My first ‘proper’ project here was working on 4930 Hagley Hall, which is known as the SVR’s flagship loco. It’s not steamed since 1986, and there are high expectations for its restoration. I’ve painted a lot of the components and machined bronze bushes for the valve gear as well as machining pins and threads. Becoming an apprentice has exceeded my expectations. My friends at college, and my twin brother, are probably more than a bit jealous. I’m learning, and I’m getting paid for it too. Best of all is that you can see the results of your effort, so that feels very good."

Jacob Cox 

"Steam locos differ from most machinery. When you put a fire in them, they become alive. They’ve all got their odd quirks and can do totally different things, sometimes unexpected things. It’s about getting to know an engine inside and out, and being able to predict what it will do, or should do. It becomes part of your lifestyle once you get involved with steam, and pretty much everything you do revolves around it as well. People appreciate that the SVR is investing in its future, and I feel lucky to be part of it.”

Barney Hill 

"I graduated from the Heritage Skills Training Academy in summer 2019 and am now employed as an improver. During my apprenticeship I had experience in many different areas of the railway; in the paint shop, in carriage & wagon mechanical, the boiler shop and the motive power department. I even had the chance to spend some time learning about track maintenance in the permanent way department. It gives me a good sense of the ‘big picture’ at the railway, and means I don’t get into the mind-set of thinking my little bit of railway is everything. I appreciate all the things that everyone else is doing."

George Brogan