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Intangible Cultural Heritage

In 2003, UNESCO adopted a Convention for the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage, including ‘traditional craftsmanship’. It stated:

“Any efforts to safeguard traditional craftsmanship must focus not on preserving craft objects – no matter how beautiful, precious, rare or important they might be – but on creating conditions that will encourage artisans to continue to produce crafts of all kinds, and to transmit their skills and knowledge to others.”

Heritage Crafts advocated for UK ratification of the Convention from its founding in 2010 to 2023, when the UK Government announced its decision to ratify the convention, bringing it in line with the 182 other UNESCO Member States already ratified, and opening the way to greater international cooperation on the importance of the UK’s knowledge, skills and practices as part of our living heritage.

Adoption of the Convention will open the way to increased monitoring of the UK’s intangible cultural heritage, including practices that have come here through migrant and diaspora communities, and better safeguarding of the most at-risk examples.

Traditional craftsmanship is one of five domains of intangible cultural heritage recognised by UNESCO, alongside oral traditions and expressions, performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe. Heritage Crafts has already been monitoring and safeguarding the traditional craftsmanship domain since 2017 through its influential Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research report to rank craft skills by their likelihood of survival in the UK and its Endangered Crafts Fund, which has provided 66 grants to improve the chance of survival of the most at-risk examples.

There is no single government or organisation responsible for implementation across the UK, so open dialogue and discussion to ensure a diversity of voices and views is fundamental. This is in line with the underlying principles of the Convention that implementation is community based, inclusive and respectful, open and engaged.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay, Arts and Heritage Minister, said:

“The UK is rich in traditions which are passed down from generation to generation. These crafts, customs, and celebrations have helped to shape our communities and bring people together, who continue to shape them in turn. By ratifying this Convention, we will be able to celebrate treasured traditions from every corner of the UK, support the people who practise them, and ensure they are passed down for future generations to enjoy.”

Daniel Carpenter, Executive Director of Heritage Crafts, said:

“Following 14 years of advocating for the ratification of the 2003 Convention, this is a historic day for the United Kingdom. Ratification will help ensure that knowledge, skills and practices integral to the UK’s ever-evolving national identity will be properly valued and safeguarded, and we will be able to join the rest of the world in sharing good practices on how to achieve this. The work now begins to ensure that the full diversity of intangible cultural heritage in the UK is represented.”