Pilgrim Trust, a charity founded in 1930 by the American philanthropist, Edward Stephen Harkness, awards funds to preservation projects, particularly those aimed at preserving the fabric of architecturally or historically significant places and artefacts.
Mount Stewart Gardens Manager Paul Stewart explains: 'In an area with relatively high levels of unemployment finding enthusiastic and dedicated people is comparatively easy, but finding people with the right technical skills can be more of a challenge.'
Paul elaborates: 'With the garden flourishing and expanding into new areas we saw this as an opportunity to grow our own talent, tailoring a scheme to address the very practical and specific demands of a heritage garden while at the same time providing opportunities for local people.'
'As a charity we are reliant on the generosity of our members and supporters, and we were delighted that the Pilgrim Trust provided 75% funding for the Garden Apprenticeship Scheme here at Mount Stewart. With this scheme we can provide paid, bespoke on the job training for two years working in tandem with South Eastern Regional College who will be delivering the academic side of the tuition in the Royal Horticultural Society level 2.'
In September Mount Stewart recruited Portaferry man, Benjamin Bridges to the role of Apprentice Gardener.
Ben told us: 'I originally trained as an electrician and after a period of unemployment I volunteered at Castle Ward before gaining a 6 month ‘First Start’ placement at Mount Stewart. It was during this placement that I decided that this was what I wanted to do.'
'One of the great things about the garden is the shear diversity of plants and horticultural styles throughout the grounds. Also the people who work here have been great. It’s a pleasure to work with such a professional team.'
Ben will be joining local Ards man, Kenneth Skelton, who is entering the second year of his Mount Stewart apprenticeship.