Accessing financial support during COVID-19

Gerald Monaghan, blacksmith (photo by Philip Utton)

Gerald Monaghan, blacksmith (photo by Philip Utton)

The heritage crafts sector, which is predominantly made up of self-employed craftspeople and micro-businesses, is going to be particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, as retailers experience a drop in footfall and selling events are cancelled all around the country.

Our survey in April/May 2020 showed that:

  • 73% of respondents were at reduced capacity or were unable to work as an indirect result of COVID-19;
  • 71% believed their turnover would reduce by more than half; and
  • 56% believed there’s less than a 50:50 chance of their business surviving the next six months.

The guidance below is provided to let heritage crafts businesses know what help is available, and will be updated as things change. Please let us know if there is any support you are aware of not listed here and we will share the details.

We need to know what you would like us to focus on in our support and advocacy in the coming weeks. Please let us know.


Self-employed craftspeople

  • Self-employed income support scheme – the Government will provide a taxable grant of 80% of a self-employed person’s earnings up to a maximum of £2,500 month, eligible for those with trading profits of up to £50,000 who make the majority of their income from self-employment. You do not need to prove coronavirus impact and you can keep working and still benefit from the scheme. Earnings are calculated as an average over the past three years and based on net profits, i.e. the amount you declared for tax after you’d taken off expenses but before you were taxed. People can apply directly to HMRC for the grant when the scheme is operational, using an online form, and the grant will be paid directly into their bank account. The scheme will run for three months in the first instance and be available ‘no later than June’, though it will be backdated to March.
  • Universal Credit for the self-employed – the minimum income floor for Universal Credit has been suspended. This means self-employed people out of work as a result of the COVID-19 can now access, in full, Universal Credit at a rate equivalent to Statutory Sick Pay for employees (£94.25 per week for up to 28 weeks). The money will be payable from day one instead of day four. In addition, the Universal Credit standard allowance and the Working Tax Credit basic element will both increase by £1,000 a year for the next 12 months.
  • Support for self-employed people paying tax – the next round of self-assessment payments on account (originally scheduled for 31 July 2020) have been deferred to January 2021. Additionally, all businesses and self-employed people in financial distress with outstanding tax liabilities may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.


Small craft businesses

The Chancellor has introduced a package of measures to support businesses including:

  • Coronavirus job retention scheme – companies and organisations will be able to apply for a grant from HMRC to cover 80 per cent of the wages of people, up to £2,500 a month, who are not working due to the coronavirus. The grant will be backdated to 1 March and available from April. 12 May update: The job retention scheme has been extended until until the end of October. From August to October the scheme will allow part time working to gradually re-introduce employees back into the workplace. Full details of changes to the scheme will follow by the end of May.
  • Statutory sick pay relief package for small and medium sized enterprises – this means that, from the day after new regulations come into force, businesses will be refunded up to two weeks Statutory Sick Pay per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. Employers should maintain records of staff absences and payments of SSP, but employees will not need to provide a note from their GP.
  • VAT deferral – the next quarter of VAT payments due from businesses have been deferred, meaning that no business will pay VAT from now to June, and they’ll have until the end of the financial year to repay those bills.
  • Business rates holiday – for small businesses in England that have retail premises, there will be a 12-month business rates holiday for the 2020 to 2021 tax year.
  • Grants for rate-paying businesses – Small businesses that have retail premises with a rateable value between £15,000 and £51,000 should receive grant funding of £25,000 to help meet their ongoing business costs. Small businesses that already receive Small Business Rate Relief (SBBR) or rural rate relief will be eligible for grant funding of £10,000. Enquiries about these grants should be directed to your local authority.
  • Business Interruption Loan Schemethis new scheme, delivered by the British Business Bank, will launch in late March to support small businesses to access bank lending and overdrafts. The government will provide lenders with a guarantee of 80 per cent on loans of up to £5 million in value. The first 12 months will be interest free, with payments covered by the government.
  • Support for businesses paying tax – all businesses and self-employed people in financial distress with outstanding tax liabilities may be eligible to receive support with their tax affairs through HMRC’s Time To Pay service. These arrangements are agreed on a case-by-case basis and are tailored to individual circumstances and liabilities. If you are concerned about being able to pay your tax due to COVID-19, call HMRC’s dedicated helpline on 0800 0159 559.


Small craft businesses in Wales

The Welsh Government has published details of its £1.4 billion business support package to help businesses across Wales.  In addition, the Development Bank of Wales will be offering all its business customers a three-month capital repayment holiday.


Facebook Small Business Grants Program

Facebook will be offering $100 million in cash grants and ad credits to help up to 30,000 eligible small businesses. The company will begin taking applications in the coming weeks and you can sign up to receive more information when it becomes available.

COVID-19 crafts business survey results

In April 2020 we carried out a survey among heritage craftspeople on their businesses outlook during the COVID-19 pandemic. The survey showed that:

  • 73% of respondents were at reduced capacity or were unable to work as an indirect result of COVID-19;
  • 71% believed their turnover would reduce by more than half; and
  • 56% believed there’s less than a 50:50 chance of their business surviving the next six months.


Summary of findings – 4 May 2020


  • 84% sole traders or freelance contractors.
  • 6% small business owners.
  • This is broadly reflective of the overall makeup of the heritage crafts sector as shown in Mapping Heritage Crafts (2012).

Current situation as a result of COVID-19:

  • 19% still working at normal levels.
  • 38% at reduced capacity.
  • 35% unable to work as a result of business (as opposed to health) factors.
  • This means that 73% are at reduced capacity or are unable to work as an indirect result of COVID-19.

Turnover forecast:

  • Only 4% of people believe their turnover will remain stable.
  • 71% of people believe their turnover will reduce by more than half.
  • 41% of people believe their turnover will reduce by more than three quarters.


  • Only 24% of people believe there’s more than a 75% chance of their business surviving the next six months.
  • 56% of people believe there’s less than a 50% chance of their business surviving the next six months.

Sales/commissions issues:

  • 92% of people are currently experiencing problems selling their work or getting commissions.
    The most cited reasons for this was the cancellation of selling events, exhibitions and festivals and restrictions on one-to-one teaching.
  • Some respondents were unsure about whether they are supposed to us the postal system for sales.

Supply chain issues:

  • 38% of people are currently experiencing supply chain problems impacting on their business.
  • Clay, wool, animal hair, timber, metal, metal thread, tools, and packaging materials have all been reported as being in short supply.
  • Some respondents harvest their own materials, but are unsure whether this constitutes essential travel if their businesses are reliant upon it? One respondent is uncertain about using a chainsaw for fear of increasing the load on the NHS in the event of a work accident.

Government support:

  • Only 4% of respondents are currently in receipt of the Government support on offer, either being furloughed or claiming Universal credit.
  • 30% are not yet in receipt of Government support but intend to make use of it, though more than one respondent said that this will not provide enough income to live on.
  • 28% are unsure of whether or not they qualify for Government support. Reasons for the uncertainty include not having high enough turnover, having another part time job or a pension supplementing their income, and the fact that they have been told not to contact HMRC but to wait to be contacted. We have given advice and guidance for those who provided contact details.
  • 31% believe that they are ineligible for government support. The reasons include being a new company that is yet to file a tax return, having savings in the bank, having a partner earning over a certain amount, and working from non-rated premises.

Key needs:

  • Reassurance that the Government recognises and values this sector, and that crafts practitioners will be eligible for support.
  • Support needs to come quicker. Many businesses won’t survive until June.
  • In cases where support is deferred, an eligibility check now would help ease uncertainty and stress.
  • 12% of respondents requested a form of Universal Basic Income for all citizens rather than the current system which allows certain individuals and businesses to fall through the gaps. This was not prompted by any of the survey questions.
  • Extra money should be made available for critically endangered crafts where the fate of an at-risk craft relies on few individuals and/or businesses.
  • The Employee Retention Scheme should be based on tax returns rather than ePAYE for those companies that do not use the latter.
  • The Employee Retention Scheme should be extended to Company Directors of small companies, many of whom are in the same position as the self employed.
  • There should be more loan repayment and business rate holidays.


Meghan sees us through our first ten years!

In March 2010 we accepted our first ever member, Meghan Purvis, who remains a member to this day! Meghan says:

Meghan Purvis“I actually knew already that I was member #1; it’s been a point of pride for me! Rarely has being a night owl paid off so handsomely; I was up late one night and saw a Guardian article about the HCA being formed, and so clicked through to join, apparently before anyone else. I joined the HCA as a very enthusiastic amateur, and I’m rather pleased to say that that’s where I remain, albeit an amateur across more disciplines! I’ve been knitting for the last twenty years, but thanks to the HCA I’ve also explored spinning, embroidery, basket weaving, and spoon carving. Each time I try a new craft, I’m reminded of the dedication and skill of heritage crafts, and I’m so grateful to the HCA and the people in it for sharing their knowledge and artistry. I hadn’t realised it had been ten years already, though; congratulations to all of you!”

To become a member like Meghan, join up today.

We have been counting down some of the highlights of our first ten years on social media.

Making woodwind instruments

Making woodwind instruments

Cambridge Woodwind Makers is a not-for-profit organisation providing a platform from which to preserve and teach the skills associated with woodwind instrument making and repair… skills that, according to the Red List of Endangered Crafts, are endangered.

“After many conversations with my colleagues around the world, we have come to an unfortunate conclusion. We are none of us (recorder makers certainly) getting any younger. We also look around and see the same faces at exhibitions and shows that we saw twenty years ago. Great for professional solidarity, but worrying in other respects.”

Tim Cranmore, recorder making tutor at Cambridge Woodwind Makers

Daniel Bangham, classical clarinet maker and founder of Wood, Wind & Reed music shop in Cambridge was one such colleague and was feeling his own ‘old age’ approaching. This led to the founding of Cambridge Woodwind Makers, formally established in October 2011. With his own experience of making, lecturing in instrument repair, business experience and an extensive network of interesting people he was well placed to do something about the pending situation.

Cambridge Woodwind Makers intends to share skills and preserve them through encouraging active participation by anyone with an interest. Its courses range from one day to two weeks. You can make a classical clarinet, a baroque oboe, a long trumpet, a recorder, a cornetto and now, a flute. Day courses are on offer in repairing instruments, the miniute of clarinet barrels, and making oboe reeds. it has also started professional development courses for repairers in the niche skills of key making and will add specific tool making courses too.

There are people interested in these skills, locally and internationally… some just as a once-off treat, some musicians who recognise the extra joy that can come from making their own instrument to play to their own tune, and, importantly, individuals genuinely interested in taking up the baton and going professional. All are valid contributions to the organisation’s vision.

Cambridge Woodwind Makers also now has an associated organisation: Cambridge Art Makers. Although not as focused on endangered crafts, if anyone is interested in teaching workshops at their studio or workshop in Linton, south east of Cambridge, please email

What winning the HCA Trainer of the Year Award means to me – by Neill Mapes

Neill Mapes was awarded HCA/Marsh Trainer of the Year 2019, receiving his award at the HCA Annual Conference in March 2019.  Neill has made the decision to gift half of his award money to the HCA in order to give support to a young craftsperson and the other half to his apprentice, Teresa Bailey, to buy her some tools. From all at the HCA we would like to thank Neill for this kind gesture.

Neill writes:

I’m very humbled to have won this award. It really does mean a great deal to me. I’ll try and explain why.

My love for British woodlands and woodland crafts began way back in my childhood.  Many influences, over the intervening years, have given woodland crafts a deep meaning to my life, sustaining me through some of the darker times. More than I could have realised.  It’s been a long journey to the awards.

My extended family were a major influence.  My maternal grandfather Clarry Tedd and my uncle Bryan Tedd worked in the silver, electroplating and silver engraving trades.  Distant ancestors from Huguenot descent also worked in silversmithing and furniture manufacture, whilst many of my female relatives were also gifted in clothes and wool crafts.  My great aunt was a dress maker in Paris. On my father’s side of the family, my great uncle created a Welsh stick chair in the Arts and Crafts style, which the family treasure.

My father was a designer of cutting tools. His work touched many of the car and aviation businesses in Britain with some of his designs being used to construct Concorde.  His technical drawing was exemplary.  He also won an award which makes me very proud.

In 1964 my family moved from Birmingham to Tenbury Wells in sleepy South Shropshire.  My time playing in this area gave me a love of the copses, woodlands and orchards.  One particular hazel coppice (sadly now built upon) gave me an understanding of how they grew: tall rods stretching to the sky.  Being under the canopy of trees was very special and protecting. These moments have stayed with me for life.

As far as I can remember, working with timber has always held my attention.  Early days of building dens and playing in the countryside felt right.  Another great influence was the Scouting movement, building structures with large pine poles and ropes, outdoor cooking, camping and building ‘benders’ with hazel rods. I attended Burford primary school, where nature and growing vegetables were a big part of the school life.

An early memory of woodcraft was seeing barrel makers ‘coopers’ whom my father and I stopped to watch through big double doors.  Every craftsman would stop and put down their tools; this memory has stayed with me.  Why would they do that?  That question has formed part of my view about crafts – show everything… hide it and lose it!

1970 was the year I passed my 11+. I was the only child from the school to be accepted at Ludlow Grammar School.  I didn’t find academic schooling easy.  I came to realise that the arts and crafts were more fitting in my life and I excelled at woodwork, although this could have been knocked out of me, literally, by my first wood working teacher who was a tough rugby coach.  I remember asking a question at the wrong moment and got bashed on the head with a 2 by 2 piece of wood.  Why that didn’t put me off woodworking I don’t know!  Twelve months later a new teacher arrived – Mr Charlton – a very tall, bearded, gentle giant of a man!  He really made classes exciting.  His rustic furniture was my first introduction to working with timber in its natural raw state. We were also allowed to mill metal and turn bowls on a graduate lathe – I loved those days.  I don’t have anything left of those early days of making.  Table, bowls, copper enamelled panel, and even a bird box.  Being allowed to design was magical.

Mr Charlton’s love of technical drawing wasn’t new to me as my father was good at this too.  Using just a pencil and ruler to draw was something I enjoyed.  I took my O-levels and got A+ in woodwork.  I won an award at school for this.  I also enjoyed art as well – other subjects not so well … but I ended up with 6 O-levels.

My favourite subject I hoped to continue to A-level, but this is where life has a habit of shutting doors on us.  I was the only student who wanted to take Woodwork and Craft at A-level, the head master refused this.  I had considered going to a John Makepeace furniture making course, however an A-level was a requirement. My parents had suggested an apprenticeship in stone carving at York Minister. So I had to make a choice; I decided to take Art, Geology and Physics.

I had briefly thought of a career as a cartographer.  During my A-levels the head master kept my oil painting of trees in his office.  During A-levels I was involved with stage and scenery construction; making models of stage productions I thoroughly enjoyed.  I have enjoyed stage shows to see the scenery construction, as well as the event itself.

After A-levels I gained a place at Shrewsbury Art College. Here I was introduced to graphic arts, life drawing, pottery, photography and on a Wednesday afternoon, the chance to use the wood working workshop. I thought I had struck gold and wanted to join the furniture making course once my foundation art course was finished.  I was told I couldn’t, as the course was full for the next two years – another door shut.

I applied for Arts degree courses at Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry.  I wasn’t successful – I don’t think my heart was in it.  So here life took a different turn, with both Art and Woodwork closed to me.  I ended up taking several jobs – one in a food factory and ended up moving back to Shrewsbury working for Safeway food retailers as a management trainee.  One hundred hours a week for £40 a week was soul-destroying.  This was the late 1970s, the winter of discontent and, still very vivid in my memory, this formed my view of the world.

Neill with traditional ash hay rakes

I applied for a better job in the Fire Service, hoping I could find a way life. As you could imagine, sometimes this job was very stressful, punctuated with moments of joy and exhilaration when calls went well. Part of my respite from incidents was returning to the natural world. Volunteering with Wildlife Trusts and the then fledgling organisation, the Greenwood Trust (GWT), I attended hedge laying, coppicing, tree felling, and dry-stone walling courses, and gained a huge amount of knowledge. Seeing much of the timber from the hedgerows being burnt spurred me to start thinking about the way small round timber could be used.  Here I bought my first basic carpenter’s kit to make small stools and chairs. I didn’t have access to a workshop but used the garden of the house I lodged in.

By the late 1980s I was occasionally volunteering at the Green Wood Trust. Here I met Gerwyn Lewis. His knowledge, expertise and drive were a major influence and they were very memorable and magical times. After one timber framing course, Gerwyn asked if I would be interested in being his apprentice. I would have jumped at the chance, had I not been in another job, and married with a child on the way.  I couldn’t accept.  I shouldn’t have regrets but that felt like an important opportunity missed.

I continued volunteering with GWT and latterly with The Small Woods Association. I attended more courses and continued making for pleasure, at home in a small shed/workshop I’d built at the bottom of the garden.

Throughout my further Fire Service career, I was given the opportunity to counsel young people on the effects of ‘playing’ with fire. Seeing the effects of the damaged caused by fire was a humbling time.

I moved from firefighting and chainsaw trainer to fire training and fire safety departments. I was the first dedicated Schools Fire Safety Officer, working in partnership with Telford and Wrekin, inspecting all schools in the borough within a 15 month period. During my time in the training department, I was trained by the Swedish fire service in dealing with compartment fires.

I’d struggled with depression and back injuries. Certain incidents had left an effect on me. A collapsed building, the effects of lightning striking a building close to where I was sat on a roof of a house, dealing with a fire caused by a previous lightning strike. They say lightning never strikes twice. It came very close.

One incident had a profound effect on me. A house fire where a mother and 2 young children tragically lost their lives. I still think about that incident, an incident that was to come back into my life more 20 years later. I’ll come back to this story later.

I ended up leaving the service after an industrial tribunal; the case ended up having a national impact on the Fire Service pension scheme. To this day I felt I was being used to achieve these changes.  I was left in a very distraught state through the culmination of dealing with family illnesses, suicide, several deaths within my family that included my father, loss of my career, marriage break-up and subsequent loss of my home. In a matter of months everything had gone, including my self-respect. I don’t know where the strength came from to continue in life. Knowing I had to be there for my daughters was so important to me.

The support from my siblings, my daughters and my mother were key. But the support of close friends who had been through similar events in their lives, really helped. One friend in particularly, Granville Reeves, who was a woodsman, was a great support and friend. He and others encouraged me to start a business in woodland crafts and art work. The only way I could see forward was to start making and selling.

Chair made by Neill

This moment of revelation, the light bulb moment, was during these dark times. Going to the trees and woodlands gave me hope. I look back over the earlier part of my life. I had a 30 year apprenticeship. I would sit and carve spoons, badly in the early days, I might add. This is really something I would advocate. Carving spoons is a good meditative craft and after several hours of carving, I can feel very mentally refreshed. Whatever I worried or felt anguished about, was gone. I felt a lot calmer and more at peace.

Chairmaking was also very important too. The use of a shavehorse and turning on a pole lathe really put me back in touch with the natural world and landscape.  It is these days that helped me decide that starting an arts and craft business was going to be an adventure. Hard work and exciting too. It gave me self-respect and some control over my life.

Attending local events, shows and galleries, gave me hope and confidence because people starting buying what I made. It wasn’t long before The Small Woods Association offered me the chance to teach and tutor on projects and courses after I took a teaching qualification.

Working with groups of people who also struggled in their lives gave me a sense of purpose.  I empathised greatly with them and built a rapport, helping them through my passion of woodland crafts.

It’s here where past career came to the fore again. I was tutoring a project for the SWA and a man who attended was really struggling in life. I realised it was his family that was involved in the house fire I had attended. At first I didn’t want to admit I had been there. He told me how the incident had completely changed his life. I sat down quietly and told him my part in trying to rescue his family members. There was a silence and he told me he wanted to talk to the rest of his family. The next day he told me his family were pleased to have been able to thank someone who had been involved. What he did not know was how it had affected me. The death of a young child and then a day or so later, carrying my newly-born daughter home was one that will live with me forever. Life is very precious. I made it my mission to help who I could. However small that help was.

Building up the business, I attended national shows, such as the Association of Professional Foresters (APF), countryside shows and even Christmas and food festival events. During these times I built up a social media presence and became admin on several Facebook greenwood and woodworking pages. Being a member of The Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Greenwood workers (APT) brought me into acting as participant and judge at several events, particularly the Bodgers’ log to leg races. I was continually supplying shops and galleries, and also took on commission sculptural art pieces for several Shropshire based organisations and councils.

A small woodland craft business needs many strands of income to work. Chairs, stools, spoons, cutting / serving boards and hand carved bowls formed part of my income. So did teaching courses, as well as producing digital art works on canvasses etc.

Cleft oak fence and gate created by Neill for the Shropshire Wildlife Trust headquarters in Shrewsbury

I worked for organisations such as Shropshire Wildlife Trust, Corndon and Stiperstones Landscape Partnership, Severn Gorge Countryside Trust and other county Wildlife Trusts, as well as SWA and other agencies such as the National Trust. This gave me a reputation of getting a job done.

About two and a half years ago I was approached by Richard Thomason (SWA Training Manager), to teach on a new project: ‘Building Better Opportunities’ – Build a bench. I was now part-time employed as well as self-employed. I’m very passionate about this project. Having been through tough times, I understand how tough life can be. Losing one’s self-respect and confidence is difficult to bounce back from. For me, craft work and a fledgling business gave me purpose in life. What I bring to the project is offering small stepping stones to people. Through making using basic greenwood craft skills, in natural surroundings, is a way to just be. To offer caring, understanding, kindness and empathy is key.

Everyone can make. It just needs a gentle approach offering support, guidance and encouragement. I found spoon carving very therapeutic; the concentration needed to carve took me away from the problems that filled my mind. The same for pole lathe turning too. My mantra is to send everyone home with a smile. To see someone smile, having just made something for the first time is a wonderful experience.

In my mind, I just think ‘LESS PILLS, MORE CRAFT’. Not without doctor’s advice, but it worked for me.

The key role of a tutor is emotional intelligence, a nurturing role. To hear comments like “I can’t wait to get here” has echoes of my own experience. The SWA site has a very special feel, something I hope is never lost. Tutoring is tiring and sometimes stressful but always exciting. I’ve dedicated many years of my life to helping people in all I’ve done.

The award means everything to me. If I can help someone in the craft that given me so much, then the hard work and turmoil I’ve gone through has been worthwhile.

Neill being presented with his award by Nick Carter, Marsh Christian Trust.

I started out asking a SWA colleague, Julia Allinson, if it was possible to apply for an HCA award for our Heritage Crafts Trainee, Teresa Bailey. This was to try and find a way to get funding for tools. Little did I realise that both Teresa and Julia had applied on my behalf for the Trainer of the Year award.

To be nominated was wonderful. To be shortlisted and asked to attend the awards was amazing. A sense of ‘no, it won’t happen’, ‘I’ll just turn up and enjoy the day was all I could hope for. Both Teresa and I were honoured to be asked to attend the HCA event in London. My brother, who has witnessed my journey, was there to see me receive the award. I felt like I’d come home in that room of contemporary craft makers.

I’m indebted to those who have helped me get to here. Truly humbled. Craft has the propensity to heal, to encourage and to inspire. Society must not underestimate a person’s need to create in their lives.

I urge everyone to make.

Neill Mapes