Prisoner power brings conservation care

15 Dec 2014 4:26 PM -
(L-R) Masonry conservation trainers Mark Whitcher, Keith McAllister, Charles Carr and Jarrad Noël at the completion of the work
Internal render was stripped back from around the 1870 kitchen fireplace
The delicate internal work took trainees a week to complete
Trainees apply the lime wash to the exterior of Cliff Grange
Trainer Mark Whitcher inspects the old bread oven at Cliff Grange, Greenough
The completed lime mortaring on the western end of the kitchen at Cliff Grange

An outstanding partnership between the National Trust of Australia (WA) and the WA Department of Corrective Services has resulted in a substantial conservation and training outcome in Western Australia’s Midwest.


Sixteen prisoners and two supervisors from Greenough Regional Prison took part in an innovative conservation trades training program in July at historic Cliff Grange, Greenough.


The Trust provided materials, equipment, four trainers and project management.  The trainers, from Applied Building Conservation Training (ABCT), a subsidiary of HSR (Aust) Group, specialise in conservation trades.  While ABCT has completed similar training projects with prisoners on the east coast, this was the first time the program was undertaken in WA. 


The 1858 stone building acquired by the National Trust in 1975 was home to three generations of the local Clinch family and is an example of one of the earliest residences in the Greenough / Geraldton region.


The trainees received theoretical information, demonstrations and practical experience in the use of lime mortars, preparation of masonry walls, stone repointing techniques and interior rendering on a significant heritage building.     


Cliff Grange was treated like a regular construction site with regard to care, safety and work practices.  The project was also treated like a typical building contract with a client (National Trust), a builder (ABCT) and the prisoners as employees with real work volume targets and quality of work.  The conservation nature of the work was also continually emphasised. 


Much of the preparatory work on the exterior of the building included removal of old cement render and unstable stonework.  New lime mortar has provided a solid conservation outcome and an eye catching finish to the building. 


Completion of the work within five days was a constraint of the training course and, while a project of this nature would normally take several weeks, the combined workforce of 21 including trainees and trainers made this target possible. 


The long term objective is to make the building habitable, usable and income producing.  Cliff Grange has remained vacant for more than 20 years.  All aspects of the building require conservation and electrical and water services are currently not connected. 


The trainees’ efforts exceeded all expectations and the target volume and quality of work was met every day.  Some of the prisoner trainees showed exceptional aptitude for their new skills which would bring benefits to the right employment opportunity.  Two of the Greenough Regional Prison supervisors also completed the course and now have the skills to supervise similar masonry works on a smaller scale.


The Trust is keen to continue work on Cliff Grange with similar training projects for other trades.  Carpentry and joinery are the next priorities when funding becomes available.