Sunday, 9 October 2011

WorldSkills London 2011

This year, for the first time, the Heritage Crafts Association was at WorldSkills.  For those of you who (like me until a couple of weeks ago) have never heard of World Skills, here’s a quick introduction. 

WorldSkills is a global skills competition for young people held every two years. This year, the 41st WorldSkills, was hosted by the UK at the ExCel Centre in London. Young people, usually 22 or under, from across the globe who have proven their skills at local/regional level to be selected for their national team compete to become the best. This year there were over 1000 competitors from 55 countries/regions competing in 46 vocational skills. Categories include health, agriculture, engineering, manufacturing, construction, IT and communications, arts, publishing etc. ( The event is aimed at young people, with careers advice and have-a-go activities to get secondary school students to consider skills-based careers.

The Heritage Lottery Fund had a big stand which they shared with like-minded organisations, including the Heritage Crafts Association. Our banners were up for the whole event but I was only there for a day. Alongside the HLF and the HCA there was the National Trust, the Heritage Skills Initiative and the National Heritage Training Group. There were also some great demonstrations and hands-on activities.

I was next to Matt Williams, the MasterThatcher from BBC’s MasterCrafts, who was thatching a roof and giving anyone who wanted a go the chance to bend some spars and fix the thatch in place. Unfortunately for the obvious health and safety reasons, nobody was allowed to have a go with the big billhook he was using! One of the amazing things was the number of people who asked what he was doing and didn’t know what thatch was – surprising if you’ve grown up in the countryside, but perhaps not so surprising if you’ve grown up in inner city London.

On my other side were some trainees from the National Trust’s Passport to your Future' Training Programme ( in conservation and collections. Their stand had lots of interesting information, but everyone went straight for the jars of bugs (towards the left of the photo) – examples of the pests that conservators are constantly battling against.

Another hands-on activity was the chance to help put up a timber-framed building – and then take it down again.

And further down the stand was a chance to have a go at pole-lathe turning. I was feeling pretty cold after a few hours at the stand, and was assured that a few minutes on the pole-lathe would have me warmed up so I had a go. It requires a lot of rhythm and control to pump the pedal and move the chisel evenly – I think it will take me quite a while to reach Robin’s standard! But I definitely felt a bit toastier afterwards.

We had a visit from John Hayes, the Skills Minister, and Jenny Abramsky from the Heritage Lottery Fund and even Tommy Walsh from Ground Force.

I’m not sure how many people I managed to convince to consider a career in heritage crafts, but hopefully the whole event got thousands of teenagers excited about skills and maybe, just maybe, they’ll become our future craft apprentices.

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