English Heritage recently bought a silversmiths workshop in Birmingham
Simon Thurley was quoted as saying “We have stepped in to save JW Evans because it is one of the most important Victorian and Edwardian manufacturies in existence. Its loss would not just be for Birmingham but the world. We now need to secure its long term future as a business and as somewhere people can learn about the source of goods, with which Birmingham supplied the Empire. It is rare to find a country house in desperate straits these days, but the big challenge of the next few years is looking after our industrial heritage. That is much less secure,’
At the start of the English Heritage video here http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/nav.19256
The commentator says “at the heart of this decision is the desire to safeguard a skilled craft which is seriously under threat.”
Birmingham City Council also recognise the importance of the living craft skills to the character of the Jewelry Quarter. The area is designated as a conservation area and is a proposed World Heritage Site. The council’s management plan highlights the significance of the
area due to “The substantial survival of an historically important manufacturing trade within a distinct urban area.” and “A viable level of specialist skills traditionally employed within the core trade.” and concludes “The Quarter is unique within the local, national , and international context, for it’s high concentration of craft industry with associated trades in one small area….As such it is of major significance with no immediate parallels in Britain or overseas.”
This is wonderful to see the recognition of the importance of the craft skills to the heritage of the area and a stark contrast to the situation in Sheffield. With all this stated interest in the skills one would expect significant investment in ensuring their survival. There is recognition that cheap workshops are vital to that survival of the skills and that with prices for residential land eight or nine times higher than industrial use that “if left unchecked, residential development could overwhelm the quarter.” threatening it’s survival.
Whilst there follow excellent policies for the preservation of the special buildings of the area there appears to be no specific plan for the support of the special skills which have been highlighted as being of such importance to the character of the area. Under the heading “Grant Aid” we read The highest priority is to secure funding for repairs to buildings at risk.”
Recognising the importance of these skills is an important first step to preserving them for future generations we now need to work out what the major threats to the skills are and find ways of ensuring they are passed on.