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Craft skills under threat with 17 additions to the Red List of Endangered Crafts

New research by Heritage Crafts has unearthed more traditional craft skills on the verge of extinction in the UK, in the latest major update of its pioneering project, the Red List of Endangered Crafts.

The research, which has been funded by The Pilgrim Trust with additional sponsorship from The Royal Mint, has found that the energy crisis and inflation has only exacerbated the issues faced by our most at-risk skills, building on the cumulative effect of COVID-19, continuing uncertainties around Brexit and structural issues relating to the funding for skills transmission.

Five new crafts have been added to the ‘critically endangered’ category of the Red List, meaning that they are at serious risk of dying out in the next generation, including straw hat making and encaustic tile making. They join the list of 146 at-risk crafts, including six that have been reclassified as being in greater danger than when the research was last updated in 2021, such as violin bow making and hat block making.

One craft has become extinct in the UK since the publication of the last edition. Mouth-blown flat glass was produced by English Antique Glass in Birmingham until 2022, at which point they were forced to stop production as a result of pressures to reduce their workshop space. This is one of the reasons that the making and restoration of historic stained glass windows has also been added to the Red List, demonstrating the knock-on effect losing one craft can have on others.

It’s not all bad news, however, as some crafts, such as brilliant cutting and shinty stick making, have seen an upturn in their fortunes and moved out of the ‘critically endangered’ category. In many cases this has been as a result of a new-found appreciation of the handmade and the need to support small businesses during the pandemic. In others it has been due to direct support from Heritage Crafts, which since the publication of the last edition of the Red List has distributed 57 grants of up to £2,000 each as part of its Endangered Crafts Fund.

Mary Lewis, who led the research on behalf of Heritage Crafts, said:

“The effect of the energy crisis, inflation, COVID-19 and Brexit have been tough on everyone, not least the craftspeople who possess our most fundamental craft skills. We know that heritage craft skills operate like an ecosystem; if we lose one part it can have devastating consequences on other parts of the system. If we allow endangered crafts to disappear then we seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods and deal with the challenges of the future.”

Whilst the UK has been a world-leader in the preservation of tangible heritage (museum collections, buildings and monuments), it has fallen behind the rest of the world when it comes to the safeguarding of intangible heritage (knowledge, skills and practices). Of 193 UNESCO members, the UK is one of just 12 that have not yet ratified the 2003 Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Heritage, and government responsibility for heritage crafts falls in the gap between agencies set up to support arts and heritage.

Jay Blades MBE, Heritage Crafts Co-Chair said:

“When craft skills are in danger of dying out it’s important that we know exactly where to focus our efforts. Over recent years the Red List of Endangered Crafts has made us realise exactly what we are at risk of losing, and has given our team at Heritage Crafts the information we need to direct our support most effectively. As Co-Chair I’m delighted to endorse this 2023 edition as the next step in turning the tide of craft decline.”

Sue Bowers, Director of the Pilgrim Trust, said:

“We are delighted to support the continuing development of the Red List which is so important in tracking the state of heritage crafts in the UK and creating the platform for discussions about how we can bring about positive change in the future.”

Paul Morgan, The King’s Assay Master at The Royal Mint said:

“The Royal Mint is proud to celebrate, protect and champion British craftsmanship, and we see supporting Heritage Crafts and the Red List of Endangered Crafts as an essential part in this. With precious metals crafts, such as hand engraving and coppersmithing, featuring on this years endangered list, we feel passionately that these skills cannot die out, so by supporting Heritage Crafts and their Red List, alongside recently awarding five bursaries to those working in the fields, we can not only help to preserve these skills in order to ensure the longevity of these crafts for the future, but to really celebrate the talented craftsmen and women behind them.”

The Red List of Endangered Crafts 2023 edition is available to view online. There is also an accompanying print publication sponsored by The Royal Mint.

To read more about Heritage Crafts and the Red List, click 'Find out more'

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