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Building a brick wall

Samuel-James Wilson describes himself as a Bricklayer/Builder/Blogger from North Yorkshire

He entered the building trade at 15, having been disillusioned with school, and started off taking a plumbing apprenticeship before switching to become a Bricklayer’s labourer for two years, and finally formalising his training by entering a bricklayers apprenticeship.Now self-employed his jobs have included working on a Gold Medal winning garden at the Harrogate Flower Show. He is currently undertaking the The Prince’s Foundation – Building Skill in Craft Programme.

He has been blogging for nearly three years, we found his blog on twitter and became really interested in his story. We decided to interview him for DIY Doctor’s blog, so we can share his story with our users. We hope you find it interesting.

Hi Samuel, thank you for agreeing to talk to us about your enthusiasm for the building trade today:

Q. It is really great to see you being so enthusiastic about your choice to complete an apprenticeship, what prompted you to train formally rather than just be a ‘handyman’?

A. At a very early age it became very clear If I was to continue in the same fashion I was heading (nowhere) I wasn’t going to achieve anything in life. I made the decision to get qualified very early. During my early years in construction I came across lots of people who had been in the trade years just doing the same thing without any qualifications just making money to spend on the weekend. I really didn’t want to be like them, I am not saying it is wrong to do that, it just wasn’t for me.

I also knew from a very early age I wanted to do something that would give me the option to work anywhere around the world in the future, an apprenticeship was the perfect choice and something I grabbed with both hands.

Q. Do you think that quality standards are improving in the building industry?

A. That’s a hard one. In certain aspects of the industry they’re due to the regulations getting tighter and tighter every year due to the influx of ‘cowboys’ in the trade but you still come across ‘bodge’ jobs now and again. Only last week I was asked to repair some stone steps in a garden that had moved and were unsafe to walk on. It was only when I took them up I realised that they were laid straight onto the soil and just propped up with mortar. This is becoming less and less common like I say but it does still happen. Overall I think standards are improving, less and less is being accepted and more and more people are feeling the need to complain about poor workmanship.

I have being doing just that over the past couple of months. Near where I live the local church is being extended, they have built a ramp up to the new entrance that in my opinion is shocking and looks terrible I took it upon myself to complain to the project manager and the council about this, I am currently waiting on action to be taken but I have received some very positive responses. The whole story is featured on my Blog.

Q. Do you think that customers are aware of the training necessary to be able to become a qualified and skilled trades person?

A. I am not sure, I get asked on the odd occasion how long I have been working as a bricklayer but not so much about the training. I would like to think so, its not an easy thing to do it takes a lot of dedication and rainy days to be where I am now. I used to go to college on weekends and days where I had no work just to practice building walls.

Q. Do you think customers place any value in the skills-training of the tradespeople they employ, and do you ever get asked to prove your knowledge?

A. I do, I have never been directly asked to prove anything but It always stands you in good stead if you can answer the questions you’re asked confidently. That is the difference between a tradesman and a handyman I guess the depth of knowledge. I spend hours researching about my craft, learning new things and I am coming up to my 10th year doing it. “Every day is a school day”

Q. What effect do DIY makeover shows have on customer expectation do you think?

A. I am personally not a great fan of these shows. I realise that they’re doing a good thing for the families involved but I think it can harm the image of a proper craftsman. Is it really possible to do a proper makeover job in 60 seconds? I will let you make your mind up. Also can you name any of the builders on these shows? They’re really just about the client and the customer. The only time you get the chance to know the builders name is on shows like ‘cowboy builders’ and that’s nothing to be proud of.

Q. Building is a hard job physically does it bother you that it is so demanding?

A. I have been doing this work since I was 15 so its something I have got used to. I really enjoy it. I am never happier than when I am working hard all day created an exciting project for a customer. The most recent job I have complete, building a folly/garden feature in a back garden near where I live was possible the hardest yet in terms of being so physically demanding. The garden was just a HUGE slop. The only way to get the materials down to where I was building was in wheelbarrows down the concrete steps that were two average strides long. There was thirty steps to the project and another ten steps to the mixer – I now have legs of steel!

Q. With so many people willing to work ‘cash in hand’ or being unskilled in the building jobs they undertake, does it make it difficult for you to make a proper living?

A. I think it effects certain jobs. The little jobs people just want doing quickly without really knowing the whats involved. For example the repair of a roof. It isn’t hard from a customers point of view to take some tiles off and replace but there is so much more to it and if you don’t get the correct professionals in you will end up paying for it in the future.

Q. Will that improve or deteriorate in the future?

A. Who can say. I hope it improves for the sake of my craft and all the others. I would hate to grow old in the knowledge that people are getting away doing rubbish jobs all the time with no qualifications after I worked so hard to achieve them.

Q. And finally, on a lighter note,  what do you listen to when you are working?

A. Anything that doesn’t give me a headache. I am currently rather addicted to the new Stereophonics album.

Thank you so much for spending the time to talk to us Samuel, and if anyone wants to read more about Samuel-James and his crusade for good building practices please do visit his blog ‘The Apprentice Ship’.

building curved walls in a garden

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