Tuesday, 10 November 2009

traditional crafts and government policy

Yesterday I spent in London talking to as many people as possible trying to pass on the message that traditional crafts in Britain need a little help.

At present they fall outside the remit of all government departments and all public agencies. This means no funding and no support.

The Landscape has Natural England as lead body.
The Built Heritage is supported by English Heritage.
Then there is the Museums, Libraries and Archives council.

We need a strategic lead body with equal standing for living heritage.

This was one of the key points I was making in London yesterday.

First stop was the Guardian offices to meet Jon Henley, a lovely chap and great supporter of traditional crafts. He has been doing a great series of articles on traditional craftspeople which you can see online here. http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/series/disappearing-acts

Then it was down to Westminster, this is Chris Rowley one of the Heritage Crafts Association committee, an ex TV executive who set up the Hand Engravers Association

I always take a range of craftwork with me to discuss. Politicians must spend their lives in boring meetings with folk who want them to do something they don't have the money for, handling a bunch of nice craft objects and seeing pictures of the people that made them seems to bring the whole issue to life. Here are some of our objects in the House of Lords.

First meeting was with Baroness Sharp and Baroness Garden for the Lib Dems, both very enthusiastic although realistic about how much they could help. Then it was over the road to Portcullis House (left background) to meet Ed Vaizey shadow arts minister. We hope this will be the start of a dialogue and he was keen for us to offer a written paper on how we think heritage policy could be changed to help support these crafts.

A dash across town took us to the Art Workers Guild a group with common interests and a wonderful history. Past members of the guild have included CR Ashbee, Edward Johnson and William Morris. They are very supportive of the work the Heritage Crafts Association is doing and we hope to work on colaborative projects in the future. Their hall has a most wonderful collection of rush seated ladderback chairs by various makers dating back to Philip Clissett who taught Gimson.

Last stop of the day was back to the Lords to meet Lord Tony Young a frined of Chris Rowley's and until recently minister for aprentices. He was very entheusiastic about our craft stories and particularly about potantial employment given a little government encouragement. He was taken with a small pen knife made by Trevor Abblett of Sheffield and since it was the last visit of the day and I have more at home we gave him the knife, he was delighted. This photo is in Westminster Hall a most magnificent building with an astonishing 14th century hammer beam roof.


  1. Good on you Robin. I admire your immense energy and determination, what a great ambassador for craftsmen, makes me feel worn out just reading about it! Well done, keep up the good work (and the turning!)

  2. I've read you blog for awhile now and while I'm not familiar with the British system of government perhaps there is a way that traditional craft could get funding and support through a ministry of tourism. I realize that sounds a little like a sell out but traditional crafts ad value to communities that otherwise might be ignored by visitors to Britain while also providing economic support for those communities through production of traditional craft. So perhaps there is a way to get obtain funding for crafts through this channel. I realize you may have already tried this avenue but it is just an idea.

  3. I'm also not too sure about the British system of government (well, I'm from Canada, and I do know a bit, but it's all really English politics related to Canada, so I don't think it'll help you out that much), but when it comes to traditional crafts, we tend to group those things into "culture". For example, sure there's the library, archives etc etc council, but maybe you can set up a culture committee or something that's dedicated to preserving English heritage? Something that includes traditional craft, because it seems to me that traditional craft would be something to go under "Culture".

  4. Fantastic - must be very satisfying to get so many influential people on side. I am very impressed!