Heritage Craft Training Case Study – Felicity Irons and Demi Green
Do it… support young people!
Felicity Irons BEM is an award-winning rush merchant and weaver. Her company, Rush Matters, is a thriving enterprise supplying rush matting, baskets and other products as well as supplying sustainably harvested British rush to other makers. Rush matting is categorised as endangered on the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts and Felicity is one of the last remaining skilled makers.
Eight years ago, the sheer workload and a desire to ensure that her skills are passed on to the next generation led her to advertise locally for an apprentice. Demi had just finished school, was looking around for apprenticeship opportunities and came across the advert ‘by accident’. It turned out to be a happy accident and now Rush Matters is now a team of three full-time staff with Demi focusing on making rush tableware and shipping. However, she comments that, in a small team: “we all know how to do everything”. Felicity says that they did present a challenge to the apprenticeship recruitment system, which is usually based on interview and not on practical skills. Eventually it was agreed that Demi could participate in a week long paid trial to assess her practical aptitude, which is vital for a maker.
Demi was the first formal trainee in the business and, in the early days, it was sometimes challenging to manage the time-consuming training alongside managing the business. “There were a lot of products that were not good enough to go out” says Felicity, “but the investment was well worth it; it has massively paid back”.
After eight years of working alongside each other, the apprenticeship has been a great success. The business is getting busier every year and the orders keep rolling in as the public interest in rush products continues to grow. Demi says:
“It’s the only job I have ever done and I can’t imagine doing anything else…It is a really nice place to work and a nice thing to do with my time. We all get on really well and it is good working in a small team.”
Felicity says that Demi is “invaluable, and extremely well skilled”. Most importantly, she is confident that she can manage the workshop and her business when she is not there, which allows her to be on the river cutting rush in the summer and perhaps even to take a holiday one day!
Felicity is passionate about the importance of apprenticeships for young people and urges other craftspeople to do the same. She says:
“I don’t really feel that I am working until my hands are wet and dirty… it is a brilliant thing to do and more young people should have the opportunity to have jobs like this … Do it, support young people. We push too many people into university and it isn’t for everyone.”
- Length – 1 year
- Qualifications gained – NVQ Fashion & Textiles
- Payments to apprentice – Paid at above the apprenticeship minimum wage. Now in permanent full-time employment.
- Recruitment process – Interview and one week paid trial to assess practical aptitude.