A CUMBRIAN slate company wants to keep traditional craft skills alive by taking on the first apprentice stonemason in its 44-year history.

Coniston Stonecraft is looking for an apprentice to learn the centuries-old skills of carving, engraving, stone-splitting and polishing, at its workshop in the foothills of Coniston Old Man.

"Cumbrian slate is unique," said stonemason Andy Barlow, who has been with the company for 12 years and has been carving stone for more than three decades.

"Our slate is renowned all over the world. So we need high-quality stonemasons to work with it."

Mr Barlow will train the new apprentice in all aspects of the trade, from carving house signs to making specialist clocks and kitchenware.

In recent weeks he has created slate menu-holders for a restaurant in Newcastle, champagne-chillers for a shop in Basingstoke and specialist fire-pokers for a customer in Norfolk.

Everything he makes is crafted from Cumbrian stone, quarried in the Lake District.

"The new apprentice will start by shadowing me so, over time, he or she will hopefully get a feel for the stone and learn the skills of our trade," said Mr Barlow.

The new apprentice will also learn basic workshop engineering skills at Furness College.

Stonecraft has teamed up with the college to offer a two-year apprenticeship.

Andrew Wren, principal and chief executive of Furness College said: "We are delighted to support Coniston Stonecraft to appoint an apprentice who will be able to earn while they learn, gain a valuable qualification and experience a workplace that is committed to maintaining the traditional skills of our Cumbrian landscape.

"Furness helps many local businesses find apprentices who can bring fresh thinking and innovative ideas."

Company owner Brendan Donnelly saved the jobs of three staff when he bought Stonecraft out of administration in February - nineteen days before Lockdown.

Since then the company, which was originally founded in 1976, has seen a mini sales-boom. And Mr Donnelly says it now needs extra pairs of hands.

He added: "Half a century ago there were workshops on our site that employed more than a dozen stonemasons. Where have they all gone? It's a dying trade.

"But people love Cumbrian slate and our order-book is filling up. So we need to train an apprentice stonemason, to future-proof our business."

Earlier this month, Stonecraft took on its first office administration apprentice.

More details of the stonemason apprenticeship can be found on the GOV.UK website, here: https://www.findapprenticeship.service.gov.uk/apprenticeship/-529884