Vocational Trip of a Lifetime for Roofing Students with CUPA!
Much has been made of the roofing skills shortage lately, we’ve an aging roofing workforce and local businesses are undoubtably struggling to get young people to choose a career in roofing, which is why it is fantastic that world’s number one producer of natural slate, Cupa Pizarras give so much support the Roof Slating and Tiling Apprentices at Leeds College of Building Roofing Department. Not only do CUPA regularly provide the roofing department with the materials to practice their trade, but they also sponsor an annual 3 day vocational trip to Northern Spain for 2 lucky students.
This October Daniel Williams (18) who works for St. Leger Homes in Doncaster, and Jacob Brain (19) who works for WDH in Wakefield, were selected for “their exceptional standard of work and commitment to their training” over the last academic year to represent the college and travelled to A Medua, Ourense, along with CUPA’s host Duncan Arnold; LCB course Tutor, Chris Messenger; College Technician, Tim Donegan and Burton Roofing Merchant Director, Lee Keates and I had the pleasure of accompanying them.
Galicia and Castile in the the North of Spain have the largest natural slate tectonics in the world. CUPA Pizarras produce 190.000 Tonnes of slate per year across their 16 quarries. One in every three roof slate supplied around the globe is a CUPA Pizarras and here in the UK more than forty homes are covered in their natural slate per day!
It's very difficult to express the sheer scale of the CUPA operation, but to give you an example it took a 20 minute drive from the visitors' centre to the highest quarry face!
Slate is a fine-grained, foliated metamorphic rock formed after over 20 million years of tectonic pressure. The characteristics of a roof slate, including the exact colour, size, thickness and surface depend on where it is extracted and the minerals it contains.
Different quarries joined together to form the CUPA Pizarras Group from the 1960s and today each individual quarry continues to manufacture a particular style of slate making their range of slate roofing products the most complete on the market. The CUPA 12 quarry produces a slate which is dark grey in colour with thin laminations and a smooth surface. This slate is suitable for traditional and contemporary roofs and a popular choice in the UK because, apart from looking great, it is extremely good for weatherproofing roofs. It has very low levels of water absorption which makes it completely resistant to frost damage and a high density which helps it to regulate temperature inside a building.
We watched in awe as slate was taken from the side of the mountain in huge chunks which are then diamond wire sawn into the smaller blocks that can be transported down to the factory. Slates have two lines of breakability – cleavage and grain which makes it possible to split the stone into the thin sheets we sell in depot. Once inside the factory, these blocks are assessed, machined into regular sizes and then hand cut by skilled splitters. We all had to have a go!
"You really get a feel for the slate when you see it being worked and handled by the experts" Dan Williams, St Leger Homes Apprentice
The slate is then carefully inspected again before being tightly hand packed into the crates we see in our depots. Each crate is labelled so that customers can trace their slate right back to the quarry, date it was produced and even the craftsperson who split it.
We had the opportunity to sample the cuisine, a quick cultural visit to a castle and, of course, enjoyed the sunshine! Chris Messenger, course tutor described the visit as a “brilliant way of motivating students and engaging them in the active learning experience, but it also provides some transferable skills too”.
Chris added “one of the highlights of my job is watching my students develop their resilience, grow in confidence and adapt to different social situations”
Dan Williams (St Leger Homes) & Jacob Brain (WHD)
On behalf of BRM I’d like to say It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with the students who are a credit to their employers and profession! The future for the industry looks very bright indeed when you witness these fantastic roofing industry and educational partnerships.