Roofing Students Return from Vocational Trip of a Lifetime

Two Leeds College of Building (LCB) roofing apprentices have just returned from the trip of a lifetime after winning a competition to go on an all-expenses-paid journey to northern Spain for three days.

The students flew to Madrid and then on to the famous CUPA PIZARRAS quarries – the biggest tectonic natural slate reserves in the world – to see first-hand where slate is excavated and manufactured for international distribution.

Jacob Brain, WHD apprentice says: “This was a fantastic experience and one I will remember for a long time. A huge thanks to Duncan Arnold from CUPA PIZARRAS and Lee Keates from Burton’s for hosting us.”

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.

The competition is sponsored by long-standing partner, CUPA PIZARRAS, which supports the College and donates roofing supplies (including its natural slate range) through Burton Roofing Merchants Ltd.

Burton Roofing Merchants Director, Lee Keates, said: “Both CUPA PIZARRAS and Burton Roofing Merchants acknowledge the need for more skilled labour within the construction industry. We took the joint initiative to support Leeds College of Building in its pursuit of excellence and development of industry skills through apprentices.”

Accompanied by LCB roofing lecturers, Chris Messenger and Tim Donegan, the students saw for themselves the production of slate on a massive scale at CUPA’s world-leading quarries.  The students observed how stone is extracted from the ground, selected, and hand-split ready for transport to roofing markets around the world.

A roofing slate’s characteristics, including the exact colour, size, thickness and surface, depend on where it is extracted. 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.

Dan Williams, St Leger Homes Apprentice comments: “You really get a feel for the slate when you see it being worked and handled by the experts.”

Also on the trip, Kate Hancock, from Burton Roofing said: “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 reach the highest quarry face!”

The particular quarry the group visited produces CUPA 12, 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.

The group visited the on-site showroom, toured the immense quarry site, watched demonstrations, and the apprentices tried out some of the difficult techniques themselves.

Leeds College of Building lecturer, Chris Messenger, said: “Seeing the apprentices in awe of the scale of an operation like this is quite inspiring. These students would never normally get opportunities like this, and they are truly life-changing. This aspirational competition rewards the hard work of roofing apprentices and enthuses the whole department, allowing apprentices to see what opportunities are available out there in industry.”

Left: CUPA PIZARRAS slate is given a final last check before being tightly hand-packed into crates. Each crate is labelled so that customers can trace their slate right back to the quarry, the date it was produced and even the craftsperson who split it. Right: “It’s very difficult to express the sheer scale of the CUPA operation, but to give you an idea, it took 20 minutes to drive from the quarry’s visitors’ centre to the highest quarry face!” comments Kate Hancock from Burton Roofing Merchants who joined the LCB contingent on the trip.
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