An apprentice has earned a place in a national competition after turning his back on his own business and returning to college.
Steve Lebourn, who studies at City of Bath College, is preparing to go head-to-head with the most skilled stonemasons in the country in the National Skillbuild competition.
Winning a place in one of the industry’s most respected contests is further proof to Steve that he made the right choice to start an apprenticeship and learn a new trade in his mid-20s.
Steve took the plunge and “followed his heart” into stonemasonry even though he had been running his own successful bricklaying business for several years.
The 26-year-old said: “As a bricklayer I always had a very high standard of work but I became fascinated with the finer detail of other people’s work.
“When working at churches and stately homes I would always look at the stonework so I decided to do something about what I was drawn to.
“I packed in the business and things were hard at first but I needed to do it, it was what I was interested in.”
Two years ago Steve enrolled on a full-time Level 2 Stonemasonry Diploma at City of Bath College, commuting from his home in Southampton.
But after impressing Wells Cathedral Stonemasons during a week’s work experience, the company took him on as an apprentice last year.
Steve’s advice to others is simple: “Don’t think about the money. You have to follow your heart and do what feels right.”
Steve triumphed in a series of competitions to make it through to Skillbuild in November in Birmingham.
He went up against his 13 classmates and earned top honours in a competition at the college’s Construction Skills Centre on 10th March.
They had to put their mallet and chisel skills to the test to produce a complex masonry component with measurement precision and neatness being taken into account.
He then went on to the UK Masonry Skills competition at Moulton College in Northamptonshire with fellow students Tim Bates, Alex Bone and George Drake.
Steve placed second out of 30 masons from across the region in the eight-hour competition on May 13.
He said: “I was very surprised to do so well but I have to say I’m chuffed to bits. It was a real challenge and I wasn’t very confident as the standard was so high.
“I just wanted to take part in a competition for the experience, now I’m through to another competition.
“I’m just going to keep my head down and do the work to the best of my ability. Hopefully it will help that I’m now an apprentice and working with stone all day long.”
Stonemasonry lecturer Ray Sumner said: “The Masonry Skills competition was really tough as the standard of work was so high.
“Steve’s success is testament to his hard work and dedication, we are all very proud that he has secured a place in such a prestigious competition.”