HAWORTH Station on the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway was the ‘birthplace’ of a scheme that is now striving to address a future skills shortage.

Hands-on trades probably haven’t been as enthusiastically pursued in recent years as computers and technology.

Identifying the potential problem for traditional industries such as engineering, increasing emphasis has been placed on apprenticeships.

And it was from Haworth that the idea for the Boiler & Engineering Skills Training Trust (Bestt) emanated.

The voluntary, charitable organisation has created a syllabus-based scheme to teach heritage steam engineering boiler and mechanical repair.

Training is undertaken in workshops throughout the UK, including at Haworth.

Since 2014, 16 trainees have successfully completed the year-long course, financed by the National Lottery Heritage Fund. Twelve have found employment within the sector.

A further 16 are currently in similar training on the scheme.

Among them are Chay McLean and Tilman Shaw.

For Chay, securing a place on the course – through the Prince’s Trust – introduced him to a type of work he never knew existed.

The 20-year-old said he had been seeking an apprenticeship for over a year before going to the Prince’s Trust.

The charity works closely with Bestt to help recruit applicants.

“This came up and I thought ‘I can do this’,” said Chay.

“I have always wanted to be an engineer so I applied for it and the scheme is something I didn’t know about so it’s a new challenge for me.”

He joined the training course last September and spent the first three months at Haworth before moving on to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway based in Pickering.

Chay is enjoying learning a new skill and hopes to secure a job in mechanical engineering after completing the course at the end of this month.

“It’s been really good,” he said.

Tilman, 23, also started the course in September.

He was already on a Prince’s Trust course training to be a motor mechanic when the opportunity came up to join the engineering programme.

“Luckily I do have an interest in steam engines – my father has always been into it,” he says.

He enjoys being involved in a traditional industry and playing a role in preserving an important part of Britain’s heritage.

“I could see when the computer age was coming in but there has been a bit of over-saturation of that – now we are riding the early wave of getting back into traditional trades,” he said.

Engineers are conscious of the need to pass on their expertise to the next generation who, they hope, will share their passion for preserving this important legacy.

Gordon Newton, one of the instigators of the apprenticeship scheme, was the sixth and last generation of his family to own the Bradford-based boiler manufacturer Israel Newton & Sons.

Although the company hadn’t undertaken any railway work during its initial 175 years, from 1979 Gordon ‘re-focused’ his business concentrating on building and repairing boilers for heritage railways as well as traction engines and other uses.

The company’s profile was boosted from a visit by the late Fred Dibnah, well-known steeplejack and TV personality, who embarked on a round-Britain traction engine tour, popping in to see Gordon at his works.

Subsequently, Gordon’s boilers were incorporated into a list of ‘celebrity’ restorations.

Business was booming and when Gordon decided to sell up he was keen to preserve the traditional skills and insisted an alternative scheme be considered, where trading profits financed training.

His intentions came to the attention of Andrew Scott, then head of the National Railway Museum, who took the idea forward. He commissioned a study from Bill Parker, of the Flour Mill, and railway historian Dr Michael Bailey.

Bestt was the outcome of the Parker/Bailey report.

The team was strengthened with the arrival of David Morgan, chairman of the Heritage Railway Association. And his involvement resulted in Henry Cleary, a retired civil servant and a director and trustee of the Maritime Heritage Trust, coming on board.

The nationwide ‘umbrella’ organisation is providing the training required to sustain all heritage steam operations, including railways.

It is estimated there are around 200 UK heritage sites where steam power is the principal attraction and it is understood there are about 50 qualified boilersmiths at work.

Before Bestt, no more were being trained. But through the initiative, skills which could have been lost in time are once again being passed on.

However, it hasn’t been an easy ride. “It’s been hard work – I just feel a sense of achievement,” says Gordon.

He recalls a once-shy trainee who has now secured a role on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway.

“There is a sense of achievement – not just for me personally – that we have helped this young man get somewhere and he is absolutely loving it,” he said.

John Reddyhoff, chief engineer with the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, has seen a wealth of experienced people come on board who had worked for British Rail during his 50 years’ involvement with the railways. But he also acknowledges there are fewer young people coming through to pick up the baton.

That is why preserving the important part of Britain’s past is imperative for the industry and for all the visitors to locations such as the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway which contribute a significant amount to the country’s economy, he added.

Retired teacher Philip Shackleton, a director of the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway, says: “It’s living history. You can see the things running. You can feel what it was like to be on a 1950s branch line.”

Naomi Dent, outcomes executive for the Prince’s Trust, says the charity became involved in Bestt through contact with Henry Cleary and ran a ‘Get Hired’ day last summer inviting young people who had previously been on trust courses.

“We went on the steam trains and had a talk from one of the drivers and the young people took part in some practical activities in the workshop in Haworth,” she said.

“We are hoping to run something similar again this year as well but open it up to those that may not have been on a course with us already.

“The scheme is massively beneficial as our values line up and we work with similar demographics of young people. Engineering can be a very difficult industry to get into without particular qualifications and this opens the door to that and also the heritage world – which may not be an industry many of the young people we work with would have considered before.”

Bestt is recruiting for the next course, starting next month. Visit enquiries@bestt.org.uk.