I can only wish you endless success and I hope that you will continue to enjoy the opportunities to practice those skills and the knowledge you have obtained through the apprentice programme.‬‪‬‪

Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I am enormously grateful to John Hayes for taking the trouble to come here this afternoon, I know how unbelievably busy he is. He most certainly didn’t disappoint with his eloquence if I may say so, it was a great joy to hear his enthusiasm for the crafts, which are something that I think are of enormous importance.

I particularly wanted to congratulate all of the graduates who have graduated today. I have nothing but admiration for all of their dedication and effort which I know they have put in over the last several months. Maddeningly of course I am here today with all of you before I see what you have built down in Wales, which I am going to see on Friday. But having seen the photographs of this wonderful bird house on the edge of a lake in South Wales I must say I was hugely impressed by all of your fantastic efforts, and I look forward hugely to seeing them on Friday. Some of you I hope may be there to show me around.

The really encouraging thing is to know that some of you have already had exciting and significant offers of employment which of course is most of the battle. So I hope and pray that you will all go on from strength to strength. Interestingly, I discovered this afternoon that we now have 61 alumni, which is quite significant. Hopefully we can build that number more and more, so that we will have a really powerful group of people out there who I hope will also go on to train and encourage others.

Last week I was visiting the Peak District National Park and I went to Haddon Hall which is one of my most favourite houses in England, it is one of those magical places which is totally timeless, and there was a splendid carpenter who is now working on the estate. The Estate has an operation for making furniture for Chatsworth and for other people. And the carpenter at Haddon Hall was none other than Kieran Winter to whom I gave to Hancock gold medal in 2009. So that gave me enormous encouragement to see where he had ended up.

As far as today is concerned, I did particularly want to thank so many of those people who make all of this happen. I am hugely grateful to the jury panel members for the extraordinary efforts they have put in. Particular thanks are due today to Stephen Davis, Charles Morris and Jim Matthews, who have all sat on the judging panel for the last five years and will be retiring from their duties this year. I am so pleased that they are being replaced by equally impressive judges - alumni Mark Hoare and Nancy Peskett and Aidan Mortimer, Chief Executive of Symm and Company.

Of course, the apprentice programme simply couldn’t exist without the extremely generous contribution of the placement providers and, indeed, the mentors. Providing opportunities for our apprentices to have practical experience, to hone their skills on both heritage and new build properties is utterly invaluable. The access to some of the most significant and precious buildings across the United Kingdom that is given to the apprentices is unrivalled, and is what makes my Foundation’s course so special.

Yet none of this would be possible without the incredibly kind contribution from those providing financial support to the programme. Michael Hintze, Hayley De Putron and Gael and Francesco Boglione really do make the whole difference to helping to maintain this vital course. I am deeply indebted to them for all their help.

When I first met John Hayes two or three years ago I couldn’t believe that he had such an enthusiasm and such an understanding of the importance of crafts and skills in today’s world. He has a very special appreciation of heritage and building craft skills and understands their significance. He has chaired the craft skills advisory board – of which my Foundation, and three of my other Charities, are members – to consider how to ensure we preserve and encourage the special skills of the crafts sector.

As a result, it is incredibly encouraging that Creative & Cultural Skills’ plan to put in place a new Craft Apprenticeship and to establish awards which will support, celebrate and reward excellence in the sector. It really is hugely welcomed. This will, I hope, ensure that we have a chance to pass on the wisdom, skills and knowledge that have built up over hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

Last year my Foundation piloted a training course in collaboration with the National Trust, English Heritage and Construction Skills, on the retrofitting of energy-saving measures in historic buildings. This year my Foundation will work with Construction Skills to encourage research into appropriate techniques for these buildings and to continue to develop joint training programmes for the apprenticeship scheme. It is hugely encouraging that we have these new courses. I am also thrilled that this year my Foundation will accept Land Craft students on to the programme, working closely with Adam Hunt from Petherick, Urquhart and Hunt.

I can’t possibly come here without paying tribute to Hank Dittmar and all his incredibly hard-working staff for making all of this possible, and for their endless dedication to the development of this important programme and putting up with me always pestering and badgering trying to get more students than we can on the programme.

Finally, once more to the graduates today, I can only wish you endless success and I hope that you will continue to enjoy the opportunities to practice those skills and the knowledge you have obtained through the apprentice programme.‬‪‬‪ Many congratulations.