A FOURTH-generation slate mason from Barrow impressed a panel of judges to gain a prestigious new sponsor for his apprenticeship.

Teenage craftsman Liam Walker is learning his trade in the workshops of Coniston Stonecraft, on the side of the Old Man of Coniston, and recently earned himself sponsorship for his training from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust.

“I feel really honoured – and privileged,” said Liam.

“To think that QEST has taken an interest in what I do up here in Cumbria… it’s amazing.”

The trust – a charity of the Royal Warrant Holders’ Association – will help fund Liam’s training and equipment during his apprenticeship.

The 17-year-old – who lives with his mum, grandad and great grandad in the hamlet of Paradise, near Barrow – is the first apprentice slate mason the company has taken on in forty years.

He won the award after a nerve-racking Zoom interview with QEST judges, plus four top businessmen and women from around the country.

QEST was founded thirty years ago, to help maintain Britain’s cultural heritage, sustain vital craft skills and promote excellence in British craftsmanship and between 30-40 awards are made every year.

The former Ulverston Victoria School pupil said: “The wifi isn’t always good up here on the Old Man and the signal in our workshop kept dropping in and out during the interview.

“I also had to turn off the stone saw so they could hear what I was saying. But they were very patient.

“We carried the laptop around the workshop and out into the slate yard. I showed them slate we’d just brought in from the quarry – and some of our finished pieces. They seemed impressed.”

In the six months he has been with Stonecraft, Liam has helped make everything from wine racks and rolling pins to placemats and lamp bases.

“I love it,” he said.

“I always wanted to learn to be a slate mason, but I never thought I’d get the chance. Traditional skills are dying out.”

Liam’s grandad and great grandad worked at the Burlington Slate quarry, near Kirby-In-Furness, which supplies Coniston Stonecraft. His dad is still a health and safety officer there.

Liam added: “After the interview, the judges wrote to say how much they liked our enthusiasm. We’ve written back, inviting them to Coniston. We think they’d like it up here!”

Stonecraft owner Brendan Donnelly – who with his wife Cherry bought the company last year – said: “Liam is a very talented, hard-working lad – and his QEST award is well deserved. It’s a great pleasure to have him on our team.”

Lynda King – Liam’s tutor in craft engineering at Furness College in Barrow, where he is studying his NVQ Level 2 Engineering and AutoCAD – added: “After 20 years of working in further education, I can say that Liam matches the very best students in all aspects.

“He really is a model student – and a model human being.”