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The Heritage Crafts Association

Published: September 2009

Is your craft healthy, prospering and attracting new young practitioners? Are your craft skills being passed on to future generations? Do you know of a skilled craftsperson working without an apprentice? Do you feel traditional crafts are being valued, promoted and supported at a national level?
The Heritage Craft Association has recently been formed to support and promote heritage crafts and we are now calling for individuals and groups to join the campaign to ensure our craft skills are passed on to new generations of craftspeople.

Our Heritage
In the UK the word ‘heritage’ tends to be associated with buildings, but many countries around the world now also recognise craft skills as ‘living heritage’ – the skills and knowledge passed down through the generations. We have a tremendous wealth of craft skills in the UK, they are part of our heritage. Our most common surname is Smith, then we have Coopers, Cartwrights, Weavers, Turners and Potters. What if the names survived and the crafts died out?
Does it matter that there is only one master cooper left and he has no apprentice? Or that there is only one oak swill basket maker, one garden riddle and sievemaker and that Sheffield’s cutlery trades, such as scissors making, are on their last legs?
In the UK we have many people who are the last of a line of craftspeople going back centuries yet they have never received any support. The National Trust and English Heritage do wonderful work preserving and valuing our ancient buildings, but these craft skills are just as valuable, just as fragile and just as much a part of our heritage.
In 2003 UNESCO passed a convention on Intangible Cultural Heritage which says:
“Any efforts to safeguard traditional craftsmanship must focus not on preserving craft objects - no matter how beautiful, precious, rare or important they might be - but on creating conditions that will encourage artisans to continue to produce crafts of all kinds, and to transmit their skills and knowledge to others, especially younger members of their own communities.”
The convention has been signed by 113 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, but not the UK.

Unified Voice
Many people bemoan the loss of crafts skills, but now there is a group of people trying to do something about it. Earlier this year, in response to the perceived crisis in traditional crafts, The Heritage Crafts Association was formed to support and promote heritage crafts as a fundamental part of our living heritage. There are many individual crafts guilds and societies but previously there has not been one organisation to promote all traditional crafts and present a unified voice to Government, educational establishments and funding agencies.
At the recent launch of the Craft Blueprint, the workplace-led policy document for the crafts, Baroness Sharp of Guildford pointed out that the way to make politicians listen is to group together and pester them. The Heritage Craft Association like to think they work with people rather than simply pestering. We see our role as giving a more powerful voice to the heritage crafts sector through PR and advocacy, working in partnership with, and complementary to, existing crafts associations.

Initial Successes
Brian Crossley, secretary of the group and a chair caner, says, “Everyone we have spoken to has agreed how important a part of our heritage these crafts are. Within just a few months of us getting together we had 500 supporters signed up to our website, we worked alongside the Crafts Council and CCSkills on the ‘Craft Blueprint’ and initiated a 30 minute debate on heritage crafts in the House of Commons.”
At that debate the Culture Minister, Barbara Follet lent her support to work safeguarding and encouraging the transmission of skills to new generations of traditional craftspeople in this country. She said, “We are keen that the rich intangible cultural heritage of the United Kingdom is properly valued and, when necessary, preserved. Whether tangible or intangible, however, our heritage is a marvellous asset that we want to protect and nurture.”
She then called on local and regional authorities to do their bit along with central Government and its agencies to support these vital heritage crafts. “As a Regional Minister, I see a role for the regional development agencies and local authorities. They need to play their part, along with central Government and non-departmental bodies, in ensuring that our traditional skills are upheld and preserved.”
Spurred on by our initial successes, we hope that the more people and groups that join the Heritage Craft Association, the more weight that will be added to the message.

What You Can Do To Help
Anyone who cares about traditional crafts and the loss of skills is encouraged to join the campaign by signing up as a supporter on the website and crafts associations can also become affiliated - all at no cost.
By going to our website www.heritagecrafts.org.uk you can register your support and find out more about our plans to help, support and promote heritage crafts.

The Heritage Crafts Association
www.heritagecrafts.org.uk

 
Cockington Court Craft Centre

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