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Statement on situation in Gaza and Israel

As a UNESCO-accredited NGO for Intangible Cultural Heritage, we echo the UN Secretary General’s statement that “[h]ostilities in Gaza and Israel have created appalling human suffering, physical destruction and collective trauma across Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. The international community has a responsibility to use all its influence to prevent further escalation and end this crisis”.

Despite not operating in the region, we agree that it is incumbent upon all of us, individuals and organisations alike, not to remain silent at this moment in history. We do not claim to have the answers to the complex political situation, but, like so many others, are here to listen to and learn from those directly involved. What we can do is bear witness to the humanitarian and cultural catastrophe and lend our voice to the calls for an immediate ceasefire and for all parties to uphold international law.

Our thoughts and feelings remain with all those subject to violence, displacement, and trauma, as we continue to learn how best to respond to the unfolding situation.

Speech by Hannah Girvan

At last month’s Heritage Crafts Awards Winners’ Reception at the College of St George, Windsor Castle, bursary recipient Hannah Girvan made this speech, which resonated with many of us there:

Hannah Girvan“I burnt out in an office job during the pandemic, as Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Lead, when I realised my role was tickboxing and that nothing would change. It broke my heart. To deal with the burnout I spent time in the forest as a Ranger and that was the first time I used power tools. Learning more about wood as a material and a living part of the habitat became integral to my existence. It became part of who I was. I shifted everything to make it my focus.


“During the pandemic I also came out to my family, friends and to myself as bi. Because once you start stepping into who you are it’s impossible to turn back.


“As an apprentice joiner I had to show up as myself because at this point there was no other form of being. It meant fighting back when sexism or racism happened. Questioning why that was allowed. Why no-one was calling it out as inappropriate or demeaning. I just wanted to go to work to do my craft and learn. I ended up changing workshops and it’s been a lot better for my health. It means I can show up to work and crack on without first having to defend parts of myself others might not have to. The white noise began to fade.


Hannah Girvan“I think I can get through pretty much anything as long as I am a maker. It helps me process life and helps me know myself better, which in itself is a powerful thing. Not everyone will be able to live their life as themselves or to know what their voice is or what creativity means to them. We are able to speak without needing words and show these parts of ourselves through the things we make. There’s something incredible in that.


“Life is hard at the minute. Cost of living is insane and I’m currently trying to find somewhere to live in Devon and that’s really stressful. Those day-to-day stresses and things like seeing the EDL on the news and what’s going on around the world really put you into survival mode and gives everything a bleak quality.


“But then we make. Knowing that what we make is truly ours and a part of us went into each piece. That we’re adding to the world not detracting from it. When we make we own our voice and share it, becoming a part of living history and heritage.


Hannah Girvan“I’m grateful for this bursary. It means permission to be creative and allocated time to do so. It means a part of my brain can be unlocked that would otherwise be in survival mode and dormant. It means I can bring friends into my craft and share it with them and it means meeting other makers like you. I’d like other people to experience this sense of quiet power. The feeling of being in a workshop, making, connected to your body, mind and material. I’d also like to hear from voices less heard and see more black and brown role models because I know I’ve got a lot to learn from differing perspectives. We all do.


“I’m grateful for the grant and I’m grateful to meet you guys today. I love sharing food so if anyone wants to eat together and hang just give me a shout.”

Hannah’s bursary was supported by the City & Guilds Foundation. Photos by Stefan Jakubowski.

Outsider Craft podcast with Yusuf Osman

Outsider Craft podcast with Yusuf Osman

Outsider Craft is the new podcast from the Leathersellers Company and Heritage Crafts member Yusuf Osman, which seeks to rediscover the purpose and meaning of craft, as we navigate our internal world as individuals and the complex issues that we are facing as a society today.

I left behind a legal career in search of a more fulfilling life. A chance weekend workshop introduced me to the world of traditional British leather craftsmanship. Now almost eight years later, I am an established leatherworker at a crossroads. Did I leave behind a conventional career only to follow another conventional path? Is this fulfilling and the life I wanted?


Inspired by the concept of outsider art, I approach the subject with the lens of being from the outside. In different ways and at various points in our lives we can all feel like outsiders. Ironically, feeling different is what unites us all.


What started as a quest for perfecting the art of leathercraft has become a journey where the craft process becomes a means of understanding what it means to be human and, in doing so, uncovering the threads that connect us all. Leather and craft have become vehicles to discuss the nuance of the relationships we have with ourselves, with each other, materials, and the natural world. With the help of my guests, I ask what it means to be a craftsperson in the modern day and how we can use craft to help us define and achieve the lives we want to live.


Anyone can end up feeling like they’re on the outside and my conversations position that as a space where we can grow and find the things that matter to us. I invite guests to join me in this process, those who to some extent feel like they’re approaching craft from the outside. Some of my guests are very established business owners, others are just starting out, but we all share the same philosophy – that craft isn’t something we do, it’s something we are.


The best and most worthwhile conversations are had during moments of adversity; those forks in the road when our emotions and feelings are rawest and authentic. This podcast should feel like you’ve just walked into a very personal and intimate conversation, and I hope it leaves you thinking a little bit deeper about your craft.


Following your passion and turning what you love into work is a constant balancing act. After many years of working alone I realised that craft is not something that exists in a vacuum – it’s the culmination of knowledge passed down making it intrinsically community focused. That’s why it has been fantastic to work with the Leathersellers on this project. It is not something I wanted to work on alone. It’s unusual to share personal parallels with an organisation, particularly their ambition to be open, engaged and responsive to the needs of leather craftspeople and other individuals and communities that they provide grant funding to across the UK.



Changes to how we approached the 2023 edition of the Red List

Every time we begin work on a new edition of the Red List we find that we need to make small changes to how we approach it, in order for the research to better reflect the changing reality of the world around us. In the 2023 edition the major change has been in how we define a craft.


How we previously defined a craft

Like any other broad category of culture, traditional craftsmanship is neither a continuum (like a rainbow), nor is it a collection of completely separate entities (like the elements in the periodic table). It can be made to seem like one or the other, depending on which analogy fits best at the time.

The Red List is partly based on lists of endangered animals, so it has served us well until now to think of crafts just like animal species, clearly distinct from each other. Animal species are not parts of a continuum, but are separated by the very real fact that different species cannot usually produce offspring together.

The question we have used to separate crafts has been: ‘Can a skilled practitioner move from one skill to another without substantial re-training?’ If the = answer is ‘yes’ then we have treated the skills as belonging to a single craft. If ‘no’ then we have treated them as two separate crafts.

There is of course the subjective matter of what constitutes ‘substantial re-training’, but overall this is the best way we have found to apply a methodology of endangerment to the complexity of crafts we see in the real world.


What’s the problem?

The problem with this method has become more apparent has time has gone on. Some crafts may employ the same basic skills but be separated by their cultural context. They might have a broad uptake across the country, but also have culturally significant manifestations that are specific to a particular geographic, ethnic or religious community of practice.

This has been especially problematic when a craft has enough practitioners nationwide to be classed as viable, but a particular culturallysignificant version of it is on the verge of extinction.

One example of this is Shetland lace knitting, in which a great many people around the country have participated, thanks to the many published pattern books and websites on the subject. At the same time there is a very particular community of practice within Shetland, producing lace in an unbroken lineage of skill passed on from one maker to the next, using the traditional double-pointed wires and leather knitting belt. It is within this cultural context that the craft is dwindling.

As a result of these two hitherto undifferentiated aspects, the inclusion of Shetland lace knitting in the previous edition of the Red List was quite naturally the matter of much debate and disagreement.


What’s the solution?

We believe that the Red List should absolutely be the place to champion the cultural distinctiveness of traditional craft practices, in the spirit of the UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) upon which our work is based.

Therefore, with this edition we have begun to list crafts not just by virtue of their skill but also by their cultural specificity, especially when the crafts are more endangered than their more widespread equivalents. We have added six of these crafts in this edition and plan to add more in 2025.

A happy side-effect of this is to highlight where our work overlaps with the other four domains of ICH, including folk practices, festivals, religious beliefs and ways of seeing the work.

It will allow us to incorporate more crafts from diaspora and migrant communities that may resemble crafts previously practiced here, but with a significance intrinsically tied to the cultural groupings with whom they reside.


2023 crafts listed by virtue of their cultural context:

Thoughts on the 2023 edition of the Red List

by Mary Lewis, Heritage Crafts Endangered Crafts Manager

WMary Lewishen Heritage Crafts published the first edition of the Red List of Endangered Crafts back in 2017, the hope was that by repeating the research on a two-yearly basis, over time the changes would become less about improving the accuracy of the data, and more about reflecting real-world change… for good or for bad. It is only with this fourth edition (the second to be carried out with the generous support of the Pilgrim Trust), that we begin to see this hope come to fruition.

Six years in, we are able to point much more accurately to concrete examples of crafts that have fared better or worse since the research started, and even attribute some of the positive changes to the influence of the Red List itself. For example, with the publication of the last edition it became apparent that tinsmithing was a clear contender for the most endangered craft in the UK, with just one or two skilled craftspeople working irregularly, if at all.

We were able to award one of our Endangered Crafts Fund grants, with match funding from the Worshipful Company of Tin Plate Workers Alias Wire Workers, to run two week-long masterclasses at The Museum of Making in Derby. As a result, we now have several metalworking practitioners incorporating these skills into their businesses and continuing their own development within the craft; not enough to remove it from the critically endangered category altogether, but enough to prevent the extinction we feared.

Sadly the changes are by no means all positive. The cumulative effect of COVID-19, Brexit, the energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine, and the ensuing financial troubles have all had a brutal impact on many crafts businesses already struggling to make ends meet. I have spoken to so many craftspeople who are having to make heartbreaking decisions between buying in materials, keeping their workshops powered, and paying themselves even a minimum wage. This is all on top of the pre-existing structural issues such as the lack of training routes and government financial support for training.

We have always talked about the cultural loss that is borne every time a craft is lost, but over the last few years we have begun to notice another phenomenon. We increasingly see how crafts operate with a degree of inter-dependence. They form a complex ecosystem, with associated skills, supply chains and economies of scale that come with the level of specialisation you used to see in cities like Sheffield, Birmingham and Stoke. When one business closes, or one craft becomes extinct, it can have a knock-on effect on other allied crafts. The fear is that if we continue to witness this haemorrhaging of skills we may soon get to a tipping point, beyond which the collapse of heritage crafts in the UK accelerates exponentially.

The updated methodology we have developed for this edition has given me immense pleasure in allowing us to include a new cohort of culturally-significant crafts that would previously have been excluded (such as vardo art and living waggon crafts) and to better serve previous entries such as Shetland lace knitting. This will provide a robust basis upon which to consider a greater number of migrant and diaspora crafts for 2025.

As always, the Red List is an evolving process and we rely on craftspeople and experts to let us know of any omissions and changes that need to be addressed. Once again, a huge thank you to the hundreds of people who assisted with the research collation for this edition of the Red List, without whom this project would not be possible.


Monks and Manuscripts

by member Andy Bates

Andy BatesIn December 2022 I embarked on a tour of Northumberland first schools, in which I delivered workshops on behalf of Queen’s Hall Arts which celebrated the Lindisfarne Gospels and the type of Anglo Saxon scriptorium in which they were created. 5 days, 10 schools, 20 workshops, 300 children, 348 miles driven.

We handled replica artefacts which I’d made, prepared parchment and spoke Old English. We discussed animal welfare, environmental issues, the nature of death and of God. And whether the monks had to run when they carried St Cuthbert in his coffin from Holy Island to Durham to escape the Vikings (I reckon so, coffin on their shoulders). And this saw me performing most enthusiastically in an early medieval monk’s outfit.

Andy BatesMy background is in archaeology and medieval languages, and I’ve been a craftsman working predominantly in leather for almost forty years. I make leathergoods, props for theatre and TV and facsimile artefacts in leather and other materials for museums and universities. I also teach leatherwork, sometimes in its archaeological and historical contexts. And I have a theatre company; that’s another story…

The final activity of the workshop was the joyfully exuberant stamping of a leather bracelet which the children took home as a reminder of their experience. This is an activity which I developed with Heritage Crafts and what is now LEAF Education whereby I hold the stamp on the leather and the children strike it with a rawhide mallet. It is intended to develop assuredness with tools and self confidence and to enhance the child’s sense of self worth by demonstrating trust on the part of the adult. I have remained injury free since I began doing this.

Andy BatesI was humbled and impressed by the qualities of the children I worked with; by their curiosity, their knowledge and their skill. By their receptivity and their openness, their creativity, their energy and their deductive reasoning, which flies so much faster than that of most adults (we solved a couple of problems of experimental archaeology that I had struggled with).

And by their willingness to speak from their hearts. At one point a young lad, who has apparently always been a bit more ‘boisterous’ than the others in his class, came over after the session and very quietly told me something about how he’d not really liked things like this previously but that this had really touched him and had allowed him to say what he really thought and to be acknowledged. Then we spoke briefly about matters of the spirit (my phrases to describe what he said).

After he’d left, his teacher found me wiping a tear. Maybe two. She said she’d never known him as considered and thoughtful and sensitive.

Andy BatesAnd this is the value of craft, of work like this. And it’s not me, not from me. I feel that I just create a space, a safe one, within which vulnerabilities and uncertainties and curiosities can unfold into confidence and assuredness and finally into a willingness in the children to be who they might be at their best and can be and are.

And that’s a great gift given to me. There is none of more value.

(And I’m also officially a Jedi, Obi Wan Kenobi to be specific, and that’s a title I will gratefully accept from 9 year olds, who perceive the truth.)