I have been thinking a lot recently about how and why I am so passionate about the crafts industry. A student in 3D design contacted me only last week looking for information. He was writing an essay on whether 'Craft is anachronism in the 21st Century' - wow! I could write reams and reams both for and against. My own son, who was originally looking to study engineering or product design, has now announced he thinks he wants to study a course that will probably lead to him being a craftsperson. I wanted to offer as much help and support as I could to the student, but my reaction to my son's choice surprised me. I wanted to push him more towards the kind of degree that will enable him to travel, support a family and be comfortable. My fear and my experience is that working in or at your craft is a struggle in so many ways.
For me being a craftsperson is a noble occupation and often involves skills that have been passed down for hundreds of years. Years of practise, perfecting and honing techniques, is incredibly satisfying. The importance of the Heritage Craft Industry was mapped by Creative and Cultural Skills (CCSkills) with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) in 2012, the first comprehensive study to define and measure the heritage craft sector in England. You can view the report in its entirety on the link above but I have pulled out some are some highlights for you.
The heritage craft sector employs nearly 210,000 people with up to a further 112,000 who work on an ad hoc basis in around 85,000 businesses. Some 96% of these businesses employ 10 people or fewer and 78% of them are classed one man/woman bands.
They estimate that 81% of us are using our crafting skills for the majority of our working day producing more than £10.8 billion in turnover in England alone. This adds £4.4bn GVA to the economy each year.
Over all the report describes a vibrant, economically significant sector - just the kind of industry I should be encouraging my son to work in.
But on the other hand what we do doesn't always sound as significant to other people. I have launched and edited a magazine with a global reputation. But I feel apologetic because it was a knitting magazine. And I am not alone. The second class view that so many people have of crafts was reinforced when the Department of Culture Media and Sports decided to put Crafts on a list of industries that might be de-listed as creative last year. The Crafts Council ran a fantastic article at the time and helped to collate our comments but, nearly 9 months later, there is still no decision. Part of the problem is that, of the businesses mapped by CCSkills the average business earns £65,000 which is £12,000 below the VAT threshold making us quite invisible.
Nevertheless I am still hugely proud and passionate about the industry I work in. Crafts people are endlessly creative; there is a vibrancy that positively feeds my soul more than a big salary ever could. I am delighted to help students, happy to give talks and honoured to teach, and secretly I would love my son to follow in my footsteps.