People can embark on a lifetime of practising traditional skills including hedge laying, dry stone walling and masonry as part of a series of free courses.

The Heritage Construction Skills Training programme is funded by Historic England and run on behalf of Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone by New College Durham. It aims to get individuals living or working in Bishop Auckland involved in the renovation of historic properties.

Durham County Council has helped make the courses possible in its capacity as a partner in both Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone and the Discover Brightwater Landscape Partnership.

There remains a shortage of people who have the traditional building skills to be able to carry out this type of work.

The courses, the first of which begin in September, are suitable for everyone. They can provide a first step for young people, students and apprentices looking to start a career in the trades. Those with previous experience such as tradespeople, property developers and volunteer workers can use the courses to upskill.

Prospective learners can choose from a range of subjects including managing bats in historic buildings. The lessons mix theory-based classroom learning with practical sessions on-site at historic buildings.

Stacey Seddon attended courses on managing bats, timber in historic buildings and dry stone walling.

The 34-year-old, from Croxdale, said: “The tutors were very knowledgeable and the courses had the perfect balance between theory and practical, hands-on experience. I especially enjoyed the timber in historic buildings course as I am wanting to pursue a career as a joiner in the heritage sector.”

Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone, run by Historic England and the council, is a five-year project to revitalise the historic market town and regenerate it as a vibrant place for local people, businesses and visitors.

The Heritage Action Zone forms part of the co-ordinated activity by the council and its partners to drive forward regeneration in Bishop Auckland.

Dr Anne Allen, Heritage Action Zone project manager, said: “It is hugely important that we continue to look at ways in which we can expand the skills of our workforce in County Durham and these courses are an ideal opportunity to do so.

“Learning in this way can give people the confidence to flourish in a new career or develop in their existing role. There are plenty of different courses on offer and I’d encourage anyone interested to find out more.”

Jules Brown, Historic England Historic Places Adviser, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for people to try craft construction skills as part of the Heritage Action Zone training programme.

“This could be an opportunity to learn a new skill and think about a career in heritage construction or for people to use the training to maintain their own homes. The courses cater for all skill levels and experience, so I’d really encourage anyone who’s interested to apply.”

The council has secured £19.9 million of government funding for Bishop Auckland town centre through the Future High Streets Fund, with money earmarked for projects including a new bus station and additional car parking, as well as a scheme to bring vacant properties back into use.

A further £33.2 million is heading to Bishop Auckland from the government’s Stronger Towns Fund, with the funding allocated to a range of regeneration projects across the town.

The aim is to attract an additional 1.5 million visitors to Bishop Auckland each year, substantially boosting County Durham’s visitor economy by £240 million and creating almost 4,000 jobs.

Tens of millions of additional investment are also being made in the town by partner organisations such as The Auckland Project, which has committed £275 million.

For more information and to apply for one of the Heritage Skills Programme courses go to

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