Maureen and I were delighted to be invited to the fantastic Worldskills UK Live Event at the NEC Birmingham as guests of the National Federation of Roofing Contractors (NFRC). Chris Causer, the Chairman of the Craft Committee, and his wife Gilly were also invited guests of the NFRC.

The aim of WorldSkills UK is to improve the prestige of apprenticeships and technical education, to inspire more young people to consider these as career routes and get off to a better start in work and life. They achieve this by working with leading employers, FE Colleges, Independent Training Providers and Universities to enable young people to gain knowledge and skills in an extensive number of diverse career opportunities, including Engineering and Technology, Digital Business and Creative, Health, Hospitality and Lifestyle, and of course, the ever important Construction and Infrastructure Industries. WorldSkills UK LIVE is the nation’s largest skills and careers event that helps to shape the future of a new generation.

We met with representatives of the NFRC on the evening of 22nd November at the Birmingham Hilton Metropole. Our hosts were Bob Richardson (Head of Technical and Training Services), Simon Dixon (Training and Technical Manager) and Kevin Taylor, Senior Vice President. Also present were the all important sponsors of the event, other senior members and staff of the NFRC, plus our own Liveryman Andy Rowlands and his wife Diane. We were greeted warmly by everyone and got to know the staff and the workings of the organisation over dinner and drinks, which was very pleasant indeed. We were made to feel very much at home and everyone was incredibly friendly and welcoming. Huge thanks must go to Jo Lear who organised the event so efficiently and made sure that everything went to plan.

The next morning, following breakfast, we made our way to the NEC for the Worldskills Live event, and what we saw there took our breath away. It is a truly amazing event, showcasing some of our brightest and best young people who were proudly exhibiting their many and varied talents. At the heart of the exhibition are the National Finals of the Worldskills UK Competitions, where these amazing young people battle it out with the aim of being crowned the "UK's best" in their chosen skill. We visited many stands, but focused on our three trades of Bricklaying, Wall and Floor Tiling and Roof Slating and Tiling.



It was a great pleasure for me to be introduced to all the competitors for the Roof Slating and Tiling event and spend a little time with each to understand their career path and future aspirations. They were truly inspirational young people who will undoubtedly go far. I was also very pleased to hand a certificate of merit to each of them for taking part. Unfortunately only one of them can win the ultimate prize (which was going to be revealed later at a magnificent awards ceremony), but as far as I am concerned, they were all winners.

We left the NEC full of praise for the fantastic work of all the entrants and also full of admiration for the amazing work of the NFRC in supporting their trades and all the young aspiring craftsmen and craftswomen. We had a truly marvellous time and were very grateful to Bob Richardson and the team for their friendliness, warm welcome and hospitality.

My final duty for the day was to attend a meeting of the Treasures Committee, a newly formed committee, chaired by Liveryman Tom Christopherson, which takes responsibility for all of the Company's treasures. The venue for the meeting was the home of Past Master Roger Westbrook, a beautiful apartment in the environs of the Palace of Westminster and we are very grateful to Roger for his kindness in letting us use his home for this purpose.

There was a very full agenda and discussions were held about the arrangements for transporting the new centrepiece to different venues, the proposed acquisitions policy, the valuation of the various Masters and Wardens Medals (Jewells) and other items of value belonging to the Company, the replacement of the Renter Warden's Medal, the Company Shield at Ironbridge, the Silver Steward and other matters relating to the Company Treasures. Decisions on the way forward were agreed, to be put to the next meeting of the Court.

Our host, Past Master Roger Westbrook generously ended the meeting by opening a couple of excellent bottles of white wine which the committee members enjoyed whilst continuing discussions.

A very useful and productive meeting and a lovely way to end a fairly busy day.

The first of my three appointments today was a meeting at Mercers' Hall to discuss the proposal from the Pan Livery Group aimed at reducing reoffending.

The Chairman of the Craft Committee, Chris Causer, and I met with Past Master Mercer, Johnny Robertson, Past Master Musician, Tessa Brewer and Past Master Builders' Merchant, Stephen Turner to discuss the project and how the construction livery companies can help to progress implementation. The group outlined the aim of the project which was to build a programme to help offenders find and sustain work with a strong focus on housing and community integration. There will be a 12 month pilot facilitated through the charity Bounce Back, who are experienced in helping people leaving prison find and stay in work. The aim of the pilot is to engage with 300 individuals and achieve 40 people into sustained employment, with housing provided as necessary. The cost of the project is £320,000. Reoffending costs the UK economy £15 billion a year and the reoffending rate for those given 12 month prison sentences is 64.1%. This project is therefore seen as a useful addition to the strong tradition of philanthropic giving by the Livery.

The project is looking for Livery Companies to contribute in two ways, the first is by making a funding contribution directly, and just as importantly, by offering employment to appropriate candidates as they leave prison. The construction sector is being targeted because this is traditionally an area where ex-offenders find good employment and are most comfortable.

We gave the representatives assurance that the Worshipful Company of Tylers and Bricklayers would take the matter seriously and do all we can to bring this project to the attention of our Liverymen who own their own building, tiling and other related companies, and outline the benefits both for the offender, and for the company as well. Bounce Back are very happy to talk to individual prospective employers to outline the benefits of the project.

We thanked the three representatives for outlining this worthwhile project and all agreed to keep in touch over the forthcoming months.

My second appointment today was to attend the wonderful awards ceremony for Craft Fellowships given by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. The Chairman of the Craft Committee, Chris Causer, and I had been invited by Liveryman and Master Craftsman Emma Simpson, a prominent member of the Society. The awards ceremony was held in the Great Chamber at the Charterhouse, a magnificent venue, and so appropriate for the presentation of these fellowship awards.

The Craft Fellowship Awards were launched in 1986 by a group of like-minded people who had a passionate interest in traditional buildings and the range of skills and methods used in their conservation. The Fellowship is designed to meet the growing demand from those responsible for historic buildings for sensitively trained craftspeople that have a highly developed sympathy for, and wider understanding of, traditional buildings and their needs.

The large audience was welcomed by Lord Cormack, Chair of the William Morris Craft Fellowship Founding Committee and Matthew Slocombe, the Director.

Four awards were given out today to Stonemasons, Luke O'Hanlon and Sean Henderson, Bricklayer, Matthew Wilson and Carpenter/Joiner, Sam Matthams. These four young men had taken their craft to the next level by studying hard and working diligently with their tutors. They were shining examples of what can be achieved through careful nurturing and hard work. The awards were very well deserved indeed.

The guest speaker, Heather Newton, Head of Conservation at Canterbury Cathedral gave a very interesting talk about her career and the work she has been doing at Canterbury Cathedral for over 30 years.

The event concluded with a round of thanks by Lord Cormack and an invitation to partake in lunch with further networking. This was a very enjoyable event where Chris and I met many different professionals who are incredibly enthusiastic about the preservation of our ancient buildings. Long may they continue to work their magic to ensure that our buildings keep their magnificence.

It was a great pleasure for Maureen and I to attend the 43rd Brick Awards Event at the Royal Lancaster Hotel as guests of the Chief Executive of the Brick Development Association, Liveryman Keith Aldis. In the traditional way, we were welcomed by Keith and his wife Ally, with a glass of bubbly and were introduced to other notable members of the Association. It was great to see some of our fellow Tylers and Bricklayers at the Awards Ceremony, two of whom were judges for the event, Past Master David Cole-Adams and Liveryman Ian Wilson, Ian having been a past winner.

It was also a great surprise to be seated on the same table as the main host for the night, Gyles Brandreth, who was incredibly charming and friendly.

We dined on pan fried scallops with crabmeat, juniper marinated venison loin and spiced pear petit gateau, which were quite delicious, all accompanied by some fine wines. Following the coffee it was time for the big event to commence, and what an event it was! Full of razzmatazz, music, smoke machines and tinsel, it was a truly fun event. And Gyles Brandreth brought his own inimitable style and sense of humour to the show, on occasions bringing the house down with his wit and repartee.

There were 350 entries from all areas of the industry, reflecting the prestige with which these awards are held. The judges had the unenviable task of whittling this down to a shortlist of 100 from which they had to choose 15 categories of winners and one supreme winner.

Every single entry displayed exceptional craftsmanship and celebrated the wonder of clay brick, truly magnificent entries, as exemplified in the photo of the Cambridge Central Mosque below.

Following the Awards there was entertainment by the Riot Jazz Band, a Casino and the evening was rounded off with music by DJ Richie Staunch. It was a truly memorable evening which showcased the very best of UK craftsmanship.