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“I wanted to work with and care for buildings, helping to conserve their history in a material way.”
On the hunt for a job role that involved looking after heritage buildings, York Minster’s magnificent Gothic cathedral couldn’t help but catch Becky Johnson’s eye.
Now 10 years into the job, Becky speaks to us about her varied role as a joiner, from oiling the Great West Doors to designing and creating a bespoke crosier.
How did you become a joiner at York Minster?
“At school, I always enjoyed arts and crafts, so I decided to study fine art at university. After I graduated, I realised I wanted my career to be more hands on and to be producing things that make a real, practical difference. I have always been interested in carpentry and joinery, so went to college to study this.
“I then got a placement at a heritage restoration company working on railway carriages and it’s here that I fell in love with the heritage world. I knew from then on that I wanted to work with and care for buildings, helping to conserve their history in a material way. I started to look around for roles, and during this time I came to visit York Minster. I saw work was being done on the building, and thought ‘maybe they need a joiner?’. I got in touch and was over the moon to be given a six-month placement!
“I was then an apprentice here for three years, before becoming a fully qualified joiner. I’ve been here for nearly ten years now.”
What does your role involve?
“As a joiner, I could be working inside the Minster doing general maintenance work, helping with renovations in our properties, looking after conservation repairs on buildings or manufacturing more bespoke joinery in the workshop. We make all sorts, from doors and windows to gates.”
“It’s this sense of ownership over projects that I love about working here.”
What’s your favourite part of the role?
“The variety of the work – you never do the same thing twice and you’re always learning. There are so many different buildings and projects to be involved in, but you also get to make some unusual, but interesting things.
“For example, I’m making a crosier at the moment, which is a stylised staff that bishops use. It’s definitely not the sort of thing that I came across during my college studies, but I’ve had the opportunity to be really involved, from the design and sourcing the timber, to making it from scratch using the latest carving techniques.
“It’s this sense of ownership over projects that I also love about working here. I have the freedom to work on something from start to finish, from doing the drawing, to using techniques I have learnt over the years, to then creating the finished product – it’s very rewarding!”
What have you worked on recently?
“I recently cleaned and oiled the Great West Doors. Although not specifically joinery, it all falls under caring for the building. The doors required a lot of attention, and it was a very specialised process, for instance we needed to be careful to use the right materials to clean the doors, so as not to ruin their historical integrity. When we finished oiling then, the visual difference from before and after was amazing!”
What’s coming up that are you most excited about?
“The big project coming up is the Centre of Excellence plans, which will include a brand new workshop for us to keep developing our skills in, meaning we can combine our existing understanding of historic techniques with the introduction of new technologies. It’s exciting because the team is involved in actually designing the workshop and helping to produce some elements for it, and then we get to work in it eventually.”
“These buildings require very specialist care, which is why it’s so important that we protect these skills.”
What’s your favourite thing about working at the Minster?
“As well as the variety of work, the team here are great. Our team of joiners here in particular are brilliant to learn from and have a wealth of experience. I also help teach the apprentices, which is humbling as I joined as an apprentice originally!
“It’s great to pass my knowledge down to our next generation of joiners and play a part in making sure the skills for looking after heritage buildings survive. These buildings require very specialist care, which is why it’s so important that we protect these skills.”
What’s your advice to someone wanting to do a similar role?
“Be proactive – if you have an idea of what you’d like to do and where you’d like to work, get in touch directly! You never know where it might lead you. I’d also say if you are a female wanting to get into joinery, give it a go and don’t let misconceptions hold you back. Joinery is still seen as a male oriented career route, but I’m proof that it doesn’t have to be.”
Find out more about other members of the team here.
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