Client news: The Ernest Cook Trust does fantastic work in promoting outdoor learning and helping young people forge careers working on the land. Our press release focusing on David, who’s an apprentice dry stone waller, was well received.

A teenager’s ambition to build a career in dry stone walling is now being fulfilled, thanks to an apprenticeship award.

David Da Costa, 17, from Skipton, is spending his year-long apprenticeship working alongside master craftsman Philip Dolphin. His place is being funded by educational charity, The Ernest Cook Trust, following an approach by the Dry Stone Walling Association (DSWA).

The Ernest Cook Trust is also funding two further apprenticeships through the DSWA, one starting next year and another in 2024. In total the funding, worth £15,000 a year for three years, is one of two Platinum Jubilee Awards being made by the Trust to mark its 70th anniversary. The other, also worth £15,000 a year for three years, has been made to the National Hedgelaying Society, again to fund apprentices.

Without the apprenticeship, David, who does not have a farming background, says it would have been difficult to find an opening.

“I don’t come from a farming family but I really love the outdoors,” he said. “I’ve been taking photos out and about for four years now and every time I go out, I love to look at the dry stone walls and question how they were made.

“I had the opportunity to do a trial day with Phil and I got really into it. Since I started the apprenticeship, I’ve found it’s really enjoyable and I am learning a lot. Some days can be challenging, because selecting dry stone can be a struggle, but when it goes well it is very satisfying.”

David is convinced that without the award from The Ernest Cook Trust, made as part of its Outdoor Futures Grant programme, he wouldn’t have had an opportunity for a dry stone walling career. “I don’t think it would have happened otherwise, but everything came together. I started talking to Phil, he was happy to take me on, and then this apprenticeship made it possible.”

The Ernest Cook Trust is a UK-wide educational charity, which creates outdoor learning experiences for children, young people and their families, on its own estates and with partner estates across the country.

Suzie Paton, Head of Grants at Trust, said: “It can be difficult for young people to get into these traditional crafts, especially if they don’t come from a farming background, so with our two Platinum Jubilee Awards we wanted to open up new opportunities.”

Kate Dymock, Training & Education Coordinator for the DSWA, said: “One of our key aims is to promote the knowledge and understanding of this traditional craft, and to try and get young people on board so we keep that knowledge going through the generations. This is why the Platinum Jubilee Award from The Ernest Cook Trust is invaluable and we are very grateful that, thanks to this, we will be able to fund three apprentices.”

During David’s year he’ll attain his level 1 and level 2 qualifications accredited with the DSWA and LANTRA (an awarding body for land-based industries), which will enable him to become a professional dry stone waller.

David hopes the apprenticeship will lead to him eventually setting up his own business. “It’s already a massive privilege to work with Phil, so I’d like to stay with him for a bit longer to learn more, then eventually set up on my own.”

Two months into the role, Philip is impressed with David’s work so far. “David is my first official apprentice, although I have had youngsters work with me before, but they have come from a farming background. David is completely new to it, but he is doing very well.”

For more information about The Ernest Cook Trust visit https://ernestcooktrust.org.uk/. For more about the Dry Stone Walling Association and apprenticeship opportunities, visit https://www.dswa.org.uk/. For the National Hedgelaying Society, and its apprenticeship opportunities, visit https://www.hedgelaying.org.uk/.