ONE of Hampshire's most famous tourist attractions is looking for new staff.

The Watercress Line is searching for three apprentices – who will learn the skills to keep restored steam locomotives thundering through the Hampshire countryside.

The chosen candidates will learn basic engineering, carpentry, sheet metal work and boiler repairs at the Mid Hants Railway, based in Alresford.

Today the heritage steam railway is run by about 45 paid staff and more than 500 volunteers, many of whom are in their 60s and 70s.

The railway’s apprentice supervisor Derek Simmonds said: “These are skills which are held by people of an older generation and once they have gone there is nobody trained to carry on and protect those skills.

“We have a boiler shop foreman who is probably the youngest of only about a dozen with his level of skills in the country and he is 50.”

The apprenticeship scheme pairs youngsters with skilled volunteers who pass on their knowledge. The first four apprentices were all kept and now the railway is looking to build upon this success.

Former apprentice Matt Oakley, 20, worked for two years in the boiler shop, learning skills such as riveting and welding, as part of the Mind The Gap scheme paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund, Skills For The Future.

Matt said: “It is heavy work but I enjoy hands-on learning. Some of the skills are transferrable like welding, gas-cutting and a forklift driver licence.

“There is nothing like it, restoring engines to go on the line and maintaining them.

“I can see myself working here for years to come.”

The new apprentices start work full-time in September and will study for a two-year BTEC qualification in engineering.

The deadline for applications is the end of August. See