Throughout its long history, BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour has covered issues from 'how to hang your husband's suit' in its very first programme to the Woman's Hour Power List, while its roll call of extraordinary interviewees includes Eleanor Roosevelt, Enid Blyton, Bette Davis, Monica Lewinsky and Tracey Emin. During this time, craft has been a vital thread of its output - it has done profiles on the wonderful Lucie Rie, for instance, as well as investigating wider themes that affect the field, such as whether knitting should be considered an academic subject. And to prove making's importance to the programme, as part of its 70th anniversary celebrations Woman's Hour joined forces with the Crafts Council and the V&A to launch a prestigious new craft prize.
The idea behind the award is to find and celebrate the most innovative and exciting makers working in the UK today. It will be judged by a panel of craft experts, with 12 finalists exhibiting their work in the V&A and in a subsequent touring exhibition. The overall winner will pick up a prize of £10,000 at a ceremony in November 2017.
Importantly, too, the process for choosing the final dozen promises to be properly rigorous, going through four stages, and an expert judging panel will select an overall winner from the finalists. Applicants may use a variety of techniques and production methods, ranging from the hand-made to small-batch production via digital technology, and judges will be on the lookout for a range of criteria including: quality of work, intellectual content and the contribution the maker has made to the field over the past five years.
Why does the award matter? Well, it will bring welcome publicity to an area of interest that is too often overlooked by the mainstream media. Woman's Hour's podcast receives 3.7 million listeners weekly, so it promises to be a wonderful shop window for the shortlisted makers.
Whatever one thinks of them, awards - and the burst of media attention they garner - play a vital role in the marketing of any industry. There can be little doubt, for instance, of the effect the Turner Prize has made on the world of contemporary art or the role the Stirling Prize has had on the wider understanding of contemporary architecture across the nation. Meanwhile, the design industry is flooded with awards and prizes from most of the major publications and exhibitions.
But what is often not mentioned is the impact it has on the recipient. Think of the Turner Prize and how Grayson Perry's career has changed since that momentous moment when being a potter was more contentious than a crossdresser. This support and recognition to an individual can have a profound effect, and I often meet makers who cite that piece of equipment or the subsequent opportunities an award has brought.
In Kendal recently, Crafts Council chair Geoff Crossick, Crafts Council trustee Michael Eden and I met with a group of Cumbrian makers to talk all things craft. I was struck by the commitment and energy in the room, despite the impact of floods last year and the challenges of reaching a market in a rural area. Here was a lively network of passionate crafts people successfully ploughing their furrow. It is at this level that prizes can make an impact.