Yesterday we had a most promising meeting with UK Director of Culture Mick Elliot.
He has been involved in initiatives in Stoke to recognise the importance of the pottery industry and as someone who lived for some time in Sheffield he was well aware of the importance of traditional cutlery making to the city. He liked the pocket knife and hand made scissors we took to show him. We also took along one of Owen Jones oak swill baskets and Mick told us that when he was at school near Nuneaton he was very pleased to have to opportunity to learn basketmaking. I am certainly heartened to know that we have a Director of Culture who has made baskets.
We pointed out how everywhere we look traditional skills fall in between culture departments for art and heritage. This was clear on DCMS own website where the culture minister’s responsibilities include various areas two of which are art and heritage. Mick felt that these skills sat more comfortably in heritage than art which is HCAs feeling too. When we click to find more about heritage on DCMS site though we find this.
Heritage assets are buildings, monuments, sites or landscapes that have significance because of their historic, archaeological, architectural or artistic interest, whether designated or not. They are components of the historic environment.”
We need this narrow view of heritage expanded to include traditional skills. We don’t expect any change overnight but the more people talk about these issues the better and once we get recognition at the top then we can start to put an infrastructure in place to survey and protect this important part of our national cultural heritage.
DCMS are just off Trafalgar Square, we then popped down to Westminster to meet Sir Patrick Cormack chair of the all party arts and heritage group.
Sir Patrick is also chair of the William Morris Craft Fellowships which offer superb mid career training in heritage building skills. Again he was very supportive of what HCA are trying to do, recognised that there are a range of traditional craft skills which have received no recognition, or support and offered his support, although not until after the election since all MPs are busy at the moment and Sir Patrick particularly so since he is standing down as an MP after 40 years. This will give him more time to concentrate on his arts and heritage work though.
It feels very odd sometimes being in London with a suit on popping between meetings at Westminster, DCMS etc knowing that tomorrow I shall be in my wellies shoveling mud from a stream bed to lay foundations for the bridge I am working on. It’s all a bit incongruous.