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Felicity Irons and Demi Green

Felicity Irons and Demi Green

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.”

 

Apprenticeship Structure

  • 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.

Honours for heritage craftspeople

Heritage crafts have received royal recognition and high honour with three craftspeople included in The Queen’s Birthday Honours Lists this year.

Wim VisscherVellum maker Wim Visscher has been awarded an MBE. Wim is owner of William Cowley, producers of hand-crafted parchment and vellum since 1870, and the last parchment and vellum makers left in the UK. Wim said:

It is a great honour and privilege to be recognised in this way. My father, grandfather and great grandfather, all parchment makers before me, would be amazed if they were here. I am particularly grateful to the Heritage Crafts Association for putting my name forward as a potential recipient for an honour of which I was entirely ignorant until now!

The Association do great work in supporting skilled craftsmen and women. They recognise the long-term environmental and economic benefits of historic crafts which make things that last and look good for life; inspiringly different to the products of our “throw away” society.

Felicity IronsRush worker Felicity Irons has been awarded a BEM. Owner of Rush Matters and supplier of  traditional rush flooring to the National Trust as well as creator of a wide range of contemporary work, Felicity has given new life to the ancient craft of rushweaving. Felicity said:

When I first read the letter from the Cabinet Office I thought it must be a hoax. I had to ask my Mum to read it several times for me. She had known about it for ages as she had been working with the Heritage Crafts Association on the nomination! I am just so stunned and still really trying to take it all in. I keep thinking why me; I just go to work every day. It is pretty emotional but wow, it’s amazing.

John Lord

Photo by Matthew Usher

A BEM has also been awarded to John Lord, master of the ancient craft of flint knapping.  He said:

I would like to thank the Heritage Crafts Association for putting my name forward for this National Honour. I accept this award only on behalf of all skilled flint knappers both past and present, and in particular on behalf of our ancient ancestors whose skills will never be equalled.

All three were nominated for their awards by the Heritage Crafts Association.  Vice Chair Patricia Lovett MBE, said:

This is tremendous recognition for the skills and expertise of traditional craftspeople. These honours show the very real value of heritage crafts to people’s lives today.