Experts teach young people skills as part of Chapel restoration programme

Young people are learning skills to protect and preserve an historic building in Wakefield.

The Westgate Unitarian Chapel needs urgent repairs and these are being funded as part of the £3.8m Wakefield’s Upper Westgate Heritage Action Zone (HAZ) project.

Part of the work at the chapel involves working with Yorkshire Lime Company, a specialist building contractor, that is teaching students from the building department at Wakefield College, about traditional methods for restoration.

There is a national shortage of skilled workers to work on heritage led projects, and it is hoped the scheme will encourage some students to consider a future career in conserving buildings.

The project is part of the £3.8m HAZ restoration initiative; a collaboration between Wakefield Council and Historic England that offers grants to owners of historic buildings along the street to repair and revitalise their buildings. Work has started on a number of buildings and the scheme has seen improvements made to four of the historic yards leading off Westgate.

Westgate Unitarian Chapel is one of only two grade II* listed buildings in the conservation area with the current chapel built in 1752. The catacombs of the Chapel are the burial place for influential historical figures such as industrialists, innovators, members of Parliament and political radicals.

Wakefield Council – Cllr Darren Byford

Cllr Darren Byford, Cabinet Member for Regeneration at Wakefield Council, said: “This is a wonderful project that is restoring this important building, and it’s great to see enthusiastic young people getting hands-on experience, and learning vital repair skills.

“These skills are essential so that buildings in our district can be preserved for the future, and this is one of the reasons why the HAZ programme is so important not just now, but so that generations to come can enjoy our history and heritage.”

Students are learning about working with heritage bricks, the use of specialist mortar, and about the difference of working at ground level and under-ground in the catacombs.

Sarah Cobham, Committee member of Westgate Unitarian Chapel said: We are absolutely delighted to be offering this opportunity to local people so that they can become upskilled and help restore our chapel at the same time. Being part of the HAZ project is very important to us and we are proud to be enabling such important skills to be gained.

Nicky Brown, from Historic England, said: “This is a fantastic initiative which is helping to restore a key historic landmark while enabling young people to develop new skills at the same time.

“Our historic environment plays an important role in creating our sense of pride in where we live and where we are from. This scheme is a great example of the innovative way that the High Street Heritage Action Zone is helping to revitalize the town, celebrating its rich history and making it more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists and investors.”

Jonathan Inglesfield, a construction lecturer from Wakefield College said: “I think this is an excellent opportunity for the next generation of trades persons entering the construction industry; to learn how to look after our heritage buildings stock.

“The students are working closely with heritage experts who are devoting time, personal skill set and experience to support the understanding of our future workforce.

“This type of project is imperative to the country as these skills and the knowledge that are required is fading asset we are losing. This imparts further importance on projects of this nature to hopefully begin to encourage more of our workforce to up skill and look after the country’s heritage.”

About the HAZ

The Upper Westgate High Street Heritage Action Zone scheme joint funded by Wakefield Council and Historic England is a programme of works ending in April 2024, offering grants to building owners of up to 90% to undertake repairs and bring empty spaces back into use to revitalise the area’s high streets and historic yards. 

The HAZ includes community and cultural activities which will create a vibrant place to live, work and play. Locals and visitors can discover the area’s fascinating history by exploring Hidden Stories of Westgate Voices.

Research for this unique project has been captured by Wakefield Historical Society and Wakefield Civic Society, with additional support from Wakefield Museums and West Yorkshire History Centre. You can find out more about Wakefield’s Textile heritage by visiting –

About Heritage Action Zones

Historic England is working with local people and partners through grant funding and sharing our skills to help breathe new life into high streets that are rich in heritage and full of promise – unlocking their potential and making them more attractive to residents, businesses, tourists, and investors. The High Streets Heritage Action Zones scheme, backed by government funding, aims to help with the recovery of local high streets from regenerating historic buildings to helping to engage local communities through art and cultural projects.

About Historic England

We are Historic England the public body that helps people care for, enjoy, and celebrate England’s spectacular historic environment, from beaches and battlefields to parks and pie shops. We protect, champion, and save the places that define who we are and where we’ve come from as a nation. We care passionately about the stories they tell, the ideas they represent and the people who live, work, and play among them. Working with communities and specialists we share our passion, knowledge, and skills to inspire interest, care, and conservation, so everyone can keep enjoying and looking after the history that surrounds us all.  We fundraise from individuals, charitable trusts and foundations and public sector bodies to enable us to deliver those aspects of our work that are not funded by our Government grant.