Commonwealth students complete Summer School

The four Commonwealth bursary students, Daniel Guenther, Su Lin Teh, Shavon Campbell, and Muhd Syahid Tan, join Noel Henry, the Commonwealth tutor, and the Commonwealth Heritage Forum consultant team, outside the earth-building workshop at the Dumfries House estate. 

Four students from Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, and Jamaica have recently completed The Prince’s Foundation Summer School at Dumfries House near Glasgow, Scotland. Their attendance on the Summer School was offered through the Commonwealth Heritage Forum's Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Commonwealth Heritage Skills (CHS) Training Programme.

Over a period of three weeks in July, 29 students participated in the Summer School, developing their knowledge of traditional architecture, design, and building techniques and how these can be applied in the 21st century. The teaching included craft workshops ranging from drawing classes and geometry, to plaster work, stone masonry, and working with lime.


Left: Tessa Mackenzie, an alumna of The Prince’s Foundation Building Arts Programme, who runs workshops on stained glass at the Summer School talks to Philip Davies (Founder and Consultant CEO of the Commonwealth Heritage Forum) about the importance of this craft and the types of skills students will develop with her.  Right: A student practises earth plastering under the supervision of tutor Alex Gibbons.

Each day was carefully timetabled to ensure that the students were exposed to learning as many new practical skills as possible. The bursaries were aimed at young people developing a career in the heritage and conservation sectors, with the desire to use and develop their skills to improve the historic built environment for this, and future, generations.

Left: Students watch a demonstration on stone carving before having a go themselves. Right: Students learn the stages involved in the preparation of lime plaster.

Commonwealth students:

Muhd Syahid Tan

Coming from Singapore, where architectural conservation and the arts and crafts are niche sectors and are in fact small in scale compared to the UK, the subject has not always been on my radar. It was only in university when I decided to make the leap (one of the best decisions in my life) from becoming an aircraft engineer to setting foot into the daunting world of architecture. Since then, my life perspective has been moulded into one which is not only more critical and analytical, but also empathetic and appreciative of people and the world around me. It has been a constant journey of seeking for things that inspire, and The Prince’s Foundation Summer School is the latest milestone in this journey.

Having expertise in digital documentation and management of heritage assets (or conservation via digital means), I was interested in understanding how conservation work is done physically as I felt out of touch from the material and physical nature of this work. Despite the short three weeks, the programme has been an empowering one, equipping me with vast knowledge on various crafts for the first time, and getting hands-on in the designing and making of objects has greatly facilitated my understanding of the processes involved.

My personal favourite takeaway from this programme that all the instructors repeatedly mentioned during the classes was to “trust the process” – something I tend forget and take for granted as a designer and artist when I get so fixated on the outcome. Just trust the process and everything else will fall into place!

When it comes to choosing which part of the programme is my favourite, it is almost impossible to pick! All the craft instructors and lecturers were not only humble and welcoming, but also supportive and engaging. Their experience in this field shows – the lessons had good pacing with stellar execution. I appreciate the patience and care they took in their teaching. My fellow programme participants were also an inspiring bunch of craftspeople, architects, heritage specialists, and students. Coming from different backgrounds and specialisations, everyone was an expert in their own way and had something unique to offer. This truly facilitated a constant exchange of ideas, connections that quickly transformed into friendships, and everything culminating into a wholesome experience that is one to remember.

Now equipped with new knowledge and perspectives on conservation, I am back in Singapore feeling inspired as I continue honing my craft in digital documentation and in my arts practice. I see this as a step towards me creating better synergy between the work we do in heritage conservation in both the physical and the digital space. Having better understanding of the subject matter, needs, and challenges across different departments in this niche sector of heritage conservation is the only way we can appreciate and add value to the work we do to propel the industry in the right direction. As I am finishing off this reflection piece, I am thinking of a new learning programme I could sign up for next, or a shadowing opportunity or placement perhaps!

With that, I would like to convey my deepest thanks to the Commonwealth Heritage Forum for granting me this opportunity through their generous sponsorship. The same goes for The Prince’s Foundation and every programme instructor involved who has made this programme successful through their continuous support and patience throughout. Cheers to everyone!

Daniel Guenther

The Summer School programme at Dumfries House was a transformative experience, one that is still sinking in. The three weeks of intensive learning instilled new approaches to historical architecture and building crafts, whilst linking how they can relate to our wider communities to ensure their success and survival.

Coming from my home city of Winnipeg, Canada – where historical architecture is embodied by many early 20thcentury buildings – it was eye opening to see the depth of heritage found on the Dumfries Estate and how it has been linked up with modern practices. Most importantly, I experienced firsthand how the work of The Prince’s Foundation and the Commonwealth Heritage Forum sustain heritage through teaching and enriching conservation skills at risk of being lost, but which are essential to improving modern architectural approaches.

This programme brought together many incredibly passionate experts in one place, giving us lessons in life drawings, clay modelling and other artistic skills which are too often missing from modern architectural educations. Our tutors introduced us to new mediums, teaching us new ways to document landscapes and life. Learning new traditional artistry skills has inspired me to represent architectural ideas and designs in new ways.

The opportunity to learn hands-on traditional craft skills was a highlight during the programme’s Craft Week. I had the opportunity to partake in stone masonry, discovering the satisfaction of levelling off stone blocks with nothing but a chisel, mallet, and a skilful eye. It was fantastic to feel the stone transform through subtle movement and begin to materialise into our chosen designs. Next, I discovered the complexities of stained glass, translating a morning of estate sketches into patterns which could be structured into lead and glass. This workshop opened my eyes to the value of stained glass artisans for both traditional and modern architecture – this is an art which can diversify a space by reflecting its locality and specificity. Our tutor explained that when you feel joy in a new space, it is often good quality glass improving our experience. We even had a visit from the BBC’s ‘CountryFile’ filming team, who were eager to learn about our stained glass designs and the new skills we planned to take back home. The final craft was blacksmithing, which provided a unique opportunity to see how each project looked different by the individual hallmarks and personal style of each maker.

Before the programme, I was not sure what the three weeks would be like. But this has been such an incredible journey of connecting with passionate people from across the UK and around the world. Many new friendships were forged over our post-lecture discussions and the odd debate – bringing together a diversity of backgrounds around a shared passion for heritage. I learned so much from my peers and through these lessons. It gives me new vigour for conserving heritage and has transformed my architectural outlook to include many traditional skills and practices absent from modern design.

This experience demonstrated the critical need for opportunities like the Summer School programme, which enrich future architects and anyone who is passionate about historical spaces. I am grateful for the support received from the Commonwealth Heritage Forum which made attending this programme possible. I am thrilled to apply my newfound skills and ideas in Winnipeg and continue the lifelong connections made with so many new friends from around the Commonwealth!

Su Lin Teh

Participating in The Prince's Foundation Summer School has been a transformative journey that has profoundly deepened my understanding of traditional architecture, while providing unique insights into its application in the modern world. The three week programme held at Dumfries House estate in Cumnock, Scotland, encapsulated a wealth of experiences that have enriched my perspective and expanded my horizons.

The initial week of the programme was characterised by intensive drawing classes, geometry exercises, an architectural tour in Glasgow and a comprehensive study of architectural development, history and philosophy. This foundational knowledge served as a solid framework for the subsequent weeks, enabling us to delve into more intricate aspects of the programme.

Week two of the programme emerged as a pivotal point of hands-on learning in traditional craft workshops. Engaging in timber framing, lime plastering and earth building, and stained glasswork, I had the remarkable opportunity to explore these crafts in both British and Malaysian contexts, guided by incredibly experienced instructors. The nuanced variations in methods and techniques between the UK and my home country, Malaysia, sparked enlightening discussions and offered invaluable comparative insights. This cross-cultural exposure not only broadened my skill set but also facilitated discussions on the philosophy of building conservation. The knowledge gained during these practical sessions will definitely influence my approach to architectural preservation, allowing me to integrate the best practices from both regions into my work.

As I entered week three, a profound experience awaited—one that would leave me with skills as rare as they are beautiful. The design workshop, centered around building vaults, was an exploration that delved deep into the physical and thought processes of this architectural marvel. Learning to construct vaults using plaster of Paris and lightweight tiles was a revelation. The physicality of the process, paired with the intellectual engagement of understanding structural forces, added layers of significance to my learning journey.

My deepest gratitude extends to the Commonwealth Heritage Forum for selecting me as one of the bursary recipients for this remarkable programme. The support and belief placed in me by these esteemed organisations have made me ever more confident in the world of heritage conservation as I build my skills through this programme and more to come. The chance to be part of this journey, to learn, grow, and connect with professionals who are leaders in their fields, is nothing short of surreal. The moments of learning, the cross-cultural encounters, and the friendships formed are treasures I will carry with me throughout my career.

In conclusion, The Prince's Foundation Summer School has been a remarkable experience that has enriched my understanding of traditional architecture and its contemporary applications. The practical knowledge gained, the cross-cultural insights, and the structural design workshop have collectively expanded my toolkit and empowered me to contribute more effectively to the preservation and advancement of architectural heritage and will undoubtedly influence my professional endeavors.

Shavon Campbell

As I get back home to Jamaica, and try to get back into my regular life in the tropics, I cannot forget the past three weeks I spent at Dumfries House in Scotland. The Commonwealth Heritage Forum along with The Prince’s Foundation Summer School gave me and 28 other participants an experience of a lifetime, one that I will never forget. I must say, it wasn’t just the experience that blew my mind, it was the wealth of information that was being shared by the different facilitators and how the students received the same.

As I mentioned to the facilitators, the instructors for the different craft and workshop programmes were exceptional. They were very professional in their delivery. The information shared was obvious and relatable. The one-on-one interaction with the instructors and how they guide students through their work allowed us to have a deeper love and appreciation for the craft.

The itinerary for the three was busy; however, each workshop and site visit was complementary to other aspects of the overall programme. With such tight schedules, we were placed in groups where we bonded and formed networks and friendships that years to come, we will still maintain. The relationships forged through our group work in the field produced captivating ideas constructed not only from our varying backgrounds but from all we were continuously learning together within the same space.

The three weeks of training exposed us to traditional conservation materials and methods and taught us how materials react and bond with each other. This included building stonewalls and pointing, and splitting boulders manually. We were also taught how to mix lime mortar using different types of lime. The construction of mud walls from earthen material and the construction of stained glass were also new techniques that I learned.  All the work that I was involved in while I was in Scotland was new to me. I had no prior knowledge or experience in any of the work I was involved in and now I am knowledgeable and have a better appreciation for these crafts.

I enjoyed the three weeks I spent in Scotland. The fellowship was great. I had the privilege to learn about new cultures and to share my own. I will be able to share my knowledge and information with my colleagues and be better able to guide the restoration of historic sites in Jamaica, through the Jamaica National Heritage Trust (JNHT) that need repair; as such, I can better grasp the process and methods should I lead any of these projects.

I am grateful to the Commonwealth Heritage Forum and the academic partners for the wealth of knowledge I have gained through The Prince’s Foundation Summer School.

Noel Henry, Commonwealth Heritage Forum tutor for The Prince's Foundation Summer School

Noel is an Architectural Consultant with 10 years of professional experience. He has gained practical and technical experience in building and civil construction, architectural design, and historical architectural restoration. Noel is the Architectural Consultant for ongoing renovation works at the National Museum and Art Gallery, Trinidad and Tobago, and also at the University of the West Indies. Noel was able to further develop his skills and pass on his knowledge to the students at the Summer School.

Dumfries House, Scotland. Set in 2,000 acres of land, the 18th-century house and estate is used by The Prince's Foundation to help people engage in learning experiences that promote confidence and personal development, as well as offer training in real-life skills to open up future employment opportunities.

Watch the BBC CountryFile coverage of The Prince's Foundation Summer School here. Our Commonwealth bursary students make an appearance, too. 

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