Stonemason Nancy Peskett shows Christine Preisig around the Stratford centre
Stonework, historic repairs and conservation have always fascinated Nancy Peskett, a stonemason and teacher at the Building Crafts College in Stratford.
Tired of the mainly computer-based work at the architect’s practice, Nancy contemplated changing careers. When the credit crunch hit the profession in 2009, she felt it was time to try out something new and decided to specialise in stonework.
Her starting point was a year long, full-time diploma in stonemasonry at the college. She then went on and refined her skills working for a small company while also developing her own work.
Nancy immediately felt at home at the college as a student and was excited to go back when she was offered a job as a stonemasonry tutor. Now she combines teaching there with her own work.
The college was founded in the 17th century by the Worshipful Company of Carpenters, a City livery company that trained young people in building crafts and conservation. To this day, the college has a national reputation for excellence in providing education in carpentry, joinery, stonemasonry, modern site construction and historic building conservation.
In the bright and spacious workshops there’s a spirited buzz in the air that’s created by the working rhythm of the students and their tools. The college introduces its students to machinery but the focus is on developing their manual skills.
“Most tutors would agree that the value of the hand work is enormous,” Nancy says.
The student body is broad, spanning diverse backgrounds and ages. At this time, students are between 16 and 67. “It’s a really healthy mix and it creates a unique atmosphere,” Nancy says.
The study programmes include apprenticeships for young people, full and part-time diploma courses – for both young and adult learners who might be changing careers or want to specialise in one particular skill – and specialist courses for experienced students.
The college also offers popular evening classes in wood and stone carving, letter cutting and woodwork that are aimed at beginners who want to try out one of those crafts.
What Nancy likes about teaching as well as creating her own stone pieces is the process of a project, not just the end result.
As a teacher she loves seeing a student progress and become independent. As a stonemason she’s fascinated how every project is different.
She needs to push her skills each time she takes one on, as there is always something new – the stone, the technique or the building she’s working on.