April 2023

Tourism student Caitlin lifts lid on past at placement at Coffin Works

By Killoran Wills

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A college student from University College Birmingham has lifted the lid on times gone by during a placement at the Coffin Works in the city.

The Jewellery Quarter museum enabled travel and tourism student Caitlin Coogan to dig deeper into Birmingham’s history as part of her work experience programme. 

And now the 17-year-old says she understands why so many people visit Birmingham to see the amazing heritage and history it has to offer.

Caitlin, who is working towards her Tourism, Aviation, Events and Hospitality Level 3 (BTEC), first walked through the door of the Fleet Street attraction on placement in November, where she was greeted by a great team of people who made her feel “so welcomed and comfortable”. 

"This has all really increased my confidence and the responsibility of running the café has helped me while applying for university"

Caitlin Coogan Tourism, Aviation, Events and Hospitality Level 3

Now, she volunteers there every Friday, working in the café and occasionally accompanying other volunteers on their tours. 

“I have had many great opportunities, such as being involved in marketing and witnessing seasonal events, and how with such a great team, they are able to keep the history of the Newman Brothers business thriving,” she said.

The Coffin Works were established in 1882 by Alfred Newman and his brother Edwin, and specialised in coffin furniture – from handles, breastplates, crucifixes and decorative ornaments to shrouds and robes.

Competition from abroad and failure to modernise forced the company out of business in 1998, but not before it had made the fittings for Princess Diana’s coffin, one of its final commissions.

Joyce Green, the last owner of Newman Brothers, felt the company was an important part of Birmingham’s industrial heritage and its story should be heard for years to come.

Caitlin agrees: “I think the Coffin Works is a place everyone should visit at least once if they are looking to see an important piece of Birmingham’s hidden history.”

She has enjoyed learning more about the history of the Coffin Works, the skills that used to be taught there, as well as the wages gap faced by women in earlier days.

“I also got to hear some of the incredible stories that have been gained through meeting people who previously worked for the Newman Brothers,” she said. “These stories are what I feel help to keep the Coffin Works so alive and interesting as there is so much to learn.”

Caitlin says her experience has been hugely positive and helped her formulate plans for the future. “It has taught me to be more confident and provided me with some great skills,” she said.

“This has all really increased my confidence and the responsibility of running the café has helped me while applying for university.”

Discover our full range of courses here.

Find out more about Hired and our focus on placements for industry experience.

Learn more about the Coffin Works here.

Pictures: Coffin Works (coffinworks.org)

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