Wow!  I nearly fell off my chair when I picked up the latest edition of Crafts magazine from the Crafts Council.  There was a 4 page excerpt from the coalition government’s minister of state for further education, skills and lifelong learning, John Hayes, extolling his belief in the validity of craft in underpinning a strong society.  The full speech can be read here :

Part of me thought ‘oh yes, we’ve heard all this before’ but as I read on, I began to get a gut feeling of ‘maybe this time something will come out of this’.  The speech was given in October, so it’s not hot off the press, but it highlights the disparities that we as practising craftspeople have faced daily for years – that the arts/crafts divide is still alive and kicking hard even though most of us actually know that we need each other.  It also validates the complaint of reduced vocational training and qualifications.  Local adult education classes which cover crafts have almost disappeared from the curriculum.  Very few areas can now access weaving, lace making, wood-working, pottery and other evening classes in practical crafts.  It’s all based around ‘academic’ courses and we are all the poorer for it.

But here we have a minister talking about the importance of craft in education, as hobbies as well as livelihoods, in sustaining and supporting the remaining livery companies and guilds, in encouraging the new crafts that are developing in software design and network engineering.  Here is a short excerpt to give you a flavour :

“..the higher the skills levels available in an economy, the more they add to the value of products and services, the more profitable the economy as a whole is likely to become, the more jobs it will support and the more business we will win from other countries. And raising skills levels brings social as well as economic benefits, like better public health, lower crime rates, and more intensive engagement by individuals in the sorts of voluntary and community activities that fuel the common good and power the national interest.

“The second area where elevating the status of craft would bring benefits is social….  these days, in most of Britain, the hard-won skill of individuals has been subsumed by soulless, impersonal ubiquity.  ..The benefits to individuals of acquiring new skills, whether for work or for private satisfaction, are reflected throughout society.  …

“The third area where we need change is cultural…admiration for skill, even when it doesn’t involve production of an object, is an integral part of our culture..and admiration for a physical prowess and physical skill doesn’t end with the onset of adulthood.  It’s part of our wiring, part of that complex bundle of impulses that, together, make us human.”

He goes on to talk about what we as a society together with the government can do about it, and it seems to be reassuring for those of us who have long cried out for re-instatement of vocational practical courses and technical colleges rather than universities of everything-under-the-sun which dilute even academic achievement!!

The excerpt in Crafts finishes off with this :

“…what I want to show above all is that our society will benefit greatly when those that make policy understand what popular culture has always known.  That skill, craft and dexterity give our lives meaning and value.  They are at the heart of our society.  Craft should be honoured and those who master it revered.

“So while we work to encourage the learning of practical skills, we must also work to build demand for and recognition of them.  Ours will be – must be – the age of the craftsman.’

Amen!!  I never thought I would be so behind a politician’s speech!!  Now let’s see whether the rhetoric is followed by action which we can join in with and work together to achieve!!