January 2009 saw a bunch of press articles about "the last master cooper"I put links to some on them in my blog post here.
There was clearly something about a craft which everyone had heard about being potentially endangered that struck a raw nerve and warranted a lot of news coverage, all good news for traditional crafts and shows the public interest in this part of our cultural heritage. The news stories last year were all about how Mr Simms felt the craft was dying and how he didn't have an apprentice. Well he is back in the Telegraph this weekend and the story is now that Wadworth are committed to taking on an apprentice and employing a cooper after Mr Simms retires. The Photo that accompanies this new article is my favourite cooper photo and is by Paul Felix who I wrote about last week.
"Rural England was once a hive of industrial activity as traditional craftsmen such as bodgers and coopers plied their trades. Then their craftsmanship fell out of favour with the modern world. With a little luck it might just make a comeback."
"Last year, Simms thought his trade was dying out. "I'm going to keep working as a master cooper until I'm dead," he said, "but I am keen to pass on my knowledge to another generation. I have loved my career and have no regrets except that no one will carry it on." Since then the brewery has announced that it hopes to appoint an apprentice as a long-term replacement for Simms. Head brewer Brian Yorston is upbeat about the future: "We are currently trying to get funding to take on an apprentice. Our long-term aim is to follow Alastair on with an apprentice.""
The last HCA heard was that they were struggling to find a suitable funding scheme that would pay for the apprentice to learn from Mr Simms. This is often the case as craftspeople however skilled are not accredited training providers and so not eligible for funding. Here we have a case where the craftsman is willing to pass on the skill, the company are guaranteeing future employment, following last years press there were over 1000 people wrote asking to become apprentices so there is no shortage of demand. All we need to find a way of getting funding to cover the instruction time that skilled craftspeople give to the next generation.
This weekends Telegraph article here