Introducing the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

Delivered by Greta Bertram, HCA Secretary, at the launch of the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts, 3 May 2017 at the House of Lords:

Greta Bertram

Photo by Lesley Butterworth

In Cambridge, where I’m lucky enough to live, we are surrounded by beautiful and historic buildings, many of which are unique. If just one of them was threatened with demolition or was allowed to fall into disrepair, people would be up in arms. There would be protests, demonstrations and it would no doubt make the national news.

Within the last ten years, we have lost four of our heritage crafts in the UK. These didn’t hit the headlines, yet these crafts are just as much a part of our rich heritage as our historical buildings. These extinct crafts include gold beating and sieve and riddle making. Only last month the Heritage Crafts Association was asked where British hand-made sieves could be bought, and the answer was, sadly, nowhere.

Historic England has a listing system for historic buildings. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature has a red list for endangered species. But this is the first time that anyone has looked at traditional crafts in the UK and identified those most at risk. Generously funded by The Radcliffe Trust, the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts looks at every single heritage craft taking place in the UK today, focusing on those where there is a significant reliance on hand-work and with high levels of hand skill.

We have looked at 169 crafts in total (although we’re bound to have missed some) and, after careful consideration, have assigned each craft to one of four categories: extinct, critically endangered, endangered and currently viable. Where we didn’t have enough information to make a classification, we put them into a data deficient category.

Seventeen crafts have been identified as critically endangered – this means that they’re at serious risk of becoming extinct. These crafts have very few practitioners, generally spread across just one or two businesses, and usually with no trainees learning the skills. We sincerely hope that none of these seventeen join the four that have already gone.

There is one skilled master vellum and parchment maker in the whole of the UK. There are two skilled clog makers (and there’s currently a revival in clog dancing), and four skilled horse collar makers. There are two businesses making coaches and wagons, one person making fans, and two businesses making hat blocks. There are three people marbling paper (indeed, we heard only heard about the third one last week), and only one piano manufacturer. And there are just a handful of trainees across these seventeen crafts! (All of this information is in your booklets).

So, what are the problems and challenges? Well, they are, typically, many and varied, and often connected. For some crafts it’s an ageing workforce, a shortage of training opportunities or difficulties in recruiting trainees. For others it’s a fluctuating market, competition from overseas or the unwillingness of customers to pay that little bit more for handmade British items. Some crafts have problems with the supply of raw materials and tools (think of all the timber diseases we keep hearing about) and others point out that people just don’t know they still exist. For yet more it’s the myriad obstacles that have to be overcome if you are self-employed (which nearly 80% of craftspeople are) or running a microbusiness.

Sadly there isn’t a magic bullet cure-all solution, but the research has highlighted how precarious the future of all heritage crafts are when they are in the hands of only a few skilled craftspeople.

So, now that we have identified the most critically endangered crafts, and understand more about the challenges they, along with all crafts, are facing, what next?

We feel it’s crucial for the government to clarify the role of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport in supporting heritage crafts, as they do for contemporary crafts, and to make the necessary changes. For too long we have been bounced between heritage – which means historic buildings and museums – and arts – things that you can put on a shelf and admire.

In 2003 UNESCO produced a Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage. This focuses not on the physical things like buildings, monuments, and artefacts, but on the non-physical aspects of our heritage like traditional performing arts, festivals, and, importantly for us, craft skills. The UK is one of only 22 countries out of 194 that haven’t ratified the convention, the government saying only that ‘it isn’t their priority’.

We would like to be pro-active in ensuring those seventeen critically endangered crafts don’t become extinct, and also in preventing any other crafts from entering that category. For that, the broader issues of the heritage crafts sector need to be addressed, particularly relating to training, recruitment, and market issues. And that requires proper funding and support.

Finally, this is a significant piece of research which should not be shelved and forgotten. Like Historic England’s listed buildings register, or the red list of endangered species, The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts needs to be regularly monitored and a thorough (and funded) review conducted every 3–5 years.

We are incredibly grateful to everyone who has supplied information about the crafts, and cannot thank the Radcliffe Trust enough for funding this research, which has enabled us to shine a light on this important part of our shared cultural fabric. We sincerely hope that the Red List will serve as a starting point to encourage future interest and research into heritage crafts, and to ensure that these rich and diverse craft skills carry on into the future.

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

The Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

The HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

 

Radcliffe Red ListFrom blacksmithing to basketry, from weaving to wood-turning, we have an incredible range of heritage craft skills in the UK and some of the best craftspeople in the world. But many of these skills are in the hands of an ageing population.

In 2015, the Heritage Crafts Association received a grant from The Radcliffe Trust to assess the vitality of traditional heritage crafts in the UK and identify those crafts most at risk of disappearing. The assessment of the vitality of each craft – from those which are currently viable to those which are critically endangered – has been made with the help of craftspeople, craft organisations, heritage professionals, funding bodies and members of the public who contributed to the research.

Make a donation that could help save an endangered craft

For the purposes of this research, a heritage craft is defined as ‘a practice which employs manual dexterity and skill and an understanding of traditional materials, design and techniques, and which has been practised for two or more successive generations’. The research focuses on craft practices which are taking place in the UK at the present time, including those crafts which have originated elsewhere, and on those aspects of each craft with a high reliance on hand-work and which involve high levels of hand skill.

Radcliffe Red List reportIn May 2017 the HCA published The Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research of its kind in the UK. This research has enabled the HCA to shine a light on this important aspect of the UK’s collective intangible heritage that has, until now, been languishing in the dark. It is our hope that this research will act as a call to action to those who have it within their power to resolve or alleviate these issues, and that this project will mark the start of long-term monitoring of heritage craft viability and a shared will to avoid the cultural loss that is borne each time a craft dies.

If you have any queries about the research, are aware of a heritage craft that is not listed, or have further information to add about any craft, please contact redlist@heritagecrafts.org.uk.

Radcliffe Red List launch

Photo by Simon Trueman -'Tyring a wheel at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, Shropshire'

Photo by Simon Trueman -‘Tyring a wheel at Acton Scott Historic Working Farm, Shropshire’

Wednesday 3 May 2017, 3.30pm to 5pm
Houses of Parliament, Parliament Square, Westminster, London SW1A 0PW

The Heritage Crafts Association and the Radcliffe Trust shone a spotlight on the UK’s most endangered crafts at the prestigious launch of their Red List project at the House of Lords. Hosted by HCA Patron Lord Cormack, attendees met and chatted with craftspeople and cultural sector leaders at the celebration of this groundbreaking project, which we hoped would trigger a significant turning point in the country’€™s support for heritage craft skills

The Radcliffe Red List of crafts in jeopardy in the UK

chairmaking-4Members will be aware that we recently started work on the Radcliffe Red List, an initiative to identify endangered crafts in the UK, supported by the Radcliffe Trust. We have just launched a simplified version of the wiki website as a survey. There are only 10 short questions to complete about your craft and your responses are vital for helping us build a picture. Do please take a look!

www.surveymonkey.co.uk/r/XSRYXQF

Endangered Crafts Fund

The Heritage Craft Association’s Endangered Crafts Fund has been set up to ensure that our most at-risk heritage crafts within the UK are given the tools and support they need to thrive.


Parchment making

The publication of the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts in May 2017 showed that the heritage crafts knowledge, skills and practices that form an important part of our shared cultural heritage, are – for a number of reasons – at risk of being lost.

We believe that these cultural assets are as important as unique heritage buildings and ancient beautiful landscapes and could provide future generations with fantastic opportunities to enrich their lives and the lives of others. So as well as lobbying policymakers to help reduce the barriers current and potential craftspeople are facing, we have set up this fund to help make a crucial difference to crafts currently on the brink.

Here are some ideas where your donation could make a real difference, but smaller amounts, and larger, will all go towards supporting our rich craft heritage:*

  • £25 – materials for demonstrations and workshops to disseminate skills
  • £100 – a half day’s mentoring in business development
  • £250 – a day’s training in social media and online marketing
  • £500 – tools for an endangered heritage crafts trainee or practitioner
  • £1,000 – the creation of a short course or educational online resource to safeguard endangered skills

Your donation could make a real difference, with both smaller and larger amounts ensuring that craft skills are supported for the future. The Heritage Crafts Association will publicise instances of where your donations are spent and the difference they have made to the survival of endangered craft skills.

Donate today via our secure button below. Alternatively, you can send a cheque made payable to ‘Heritage Crafts Association’ with an accompanying note specifying ‘Endangered Crafts Fund’ to:
Heritage Crafts Association, 27 South Road, Oundle, Peterborough PE8 4BU.




We also have a general donations scheme, a Benefactor Scheme for those wishing to offer additional support, as well as a Corporate Sponsorship Scheme for businesses who wish to support us.

*Please note that these are examples only and the Heritage Craft Association will allocate the fund according to need and established criteria to the safeguarding of endangered crafts.