Thursday, 17 March 2011

meeting the minister and talking craft apprenticeships

I am very pleased to report that traditional crafts now have a powerful voice and strong advocate in government.

One of the reasons traditional crafts have struggled for recognition in the UK is that they cross the boundaries of many different government organisations but don't fall completely within the remit of any. We have never been recognised as art because the modern art world is all about innovative practice, superb quality work which is part of a long tradition does not count. Neither are we recognised as heritage since in the UK heritage has been interpreted as buildings and monuments and has tended to be backward looking preserving things from the past where traditional crafts are always developing and alive.We have previously met with Arts Minister, Ed Vaizey, Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, Heritage Minister, John Penrose who have all been supportive but it is fair to say none have been passionate and  not much action has resulted.

We were running out of ministers to visit then back in October last year John Hayes minister for Business Innovation and Skills out of the blue gave a speech at the RSA calling for a new arts and crafts movement. The speech was fantastic and the full text is here

or watch the speech here

We immediately asked for a meeting but these things take time and we finally had our meeting yesterday. In private John Hayes is totally passionate about craftsmanship. This is not the core area of his ministry but it is something he cares very genuinely about. He was wearing an English made suit, shirt and Church's shoes and is equally passionate about buying locally produced food. We talked at length about how we could work together to turn the points in his speech into action, first surveying the traditional crafts in the UK so that we know what is out there, which are seriously endangered and which present good opportunities for growth. We presented the cases of a number of firms we knew of where there was a desire to pass skills on or take on apprentices but the problem of current government schemes not recognising or supporting benchside learning from a master craftsperson only college learning is recognised. The minister made it clear that this must was an anomaly that we must work to rectify. The colleges don't have the specialist skills and knowledge of these crafts and we must make it viable for those with the skills to pass them on.

Having been working hard and campaigning on these issues for many years this was the first time we have heard a minister specifically say that they would take action to make a change. Conveniently the the official of the department dealing with these issues is based in Sheffield, is equally passionate and knows of many of the craftspeople we have been highlighting in the Sheffield cutlery industry. Change will not happen overnight but we do currently have a window of opportunity and will be working very hard to work with the minister for more recognition and promotion for traditional craftspeople.

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