Working to protect our endangered heritage crafts from extinction

The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) is one of five partners selected by Allchurches Trust to benefit from our heritage grants programme, which is helping to build and protect sustainable skills to care for the UK and Ireland’s historic environment.

In 2017, HCA published its first research report, the Red List of Endangered Crafts. It attracted extensive media coverage in the UK and abroad and, for the first time, shone a light on the many heritage craft practices under threat in the UK.

Julie Crawshaw, Director of the HCA, said: “As examples of tacit knowledge that cannot easily be passed on in written form, these crafts survive only through practice and the transmission of skill from one person to another.”

There are 212 entries on the Red List, categorised as extinct, critically endangered, endangered and currently viable. Four crafts are known to have become extinct in the UK in the last ten years, including cricket ball making and gold beating.

In 2019, the updated Red List included an additional 16 new critically endangered crafts (defined as having very few practitioners, few (if any) trainees, and a lack of viable training routes which can be passed on), taking the total to 36 in this category.

There is some good news though, with one 2017 extinct craft, sieve and riddle making*, being downgraded from extinct to critically endangered in 2019 as a result of publicity which led to two new makers committing to revive the craft. Steve Overthrow in Somerset sought tuition and advice from the previous ‘last-of-the-line’ maker, Mike Turnock, and after a few years of refinement and testing has now established his own commercial production of beautifully hand crafted sieve and riddles, with markets in gardening, shellfish harvesting, ceramics and cooking.

The continuation of heritage crafts is critical for the ongoing protection of both our tangible and intangible heritage and the conservation of culture, knowledge and skills. But it’s not all about preserving the past. Along with new opportunities to develop highly niche markets for skilled craftspeople in a digital era, the sustainability of these making practices is likely to make them increasingly important to our future heritage.

The HCA is committed to training and mentoring crafts people to keep these heritage skills alive and build meaningful livings and lifestyles at the same time. Allchurches’ grant of £12,000 will fund a number of craftspeople to develop skills and knowledge of an endangered craft on the Red List, through grants for either learning or teaching.

Rachel Whittington, Director of Allchurches Trust, said: “We’re delighted to provide funding that will help ensure that at-risk traditional crafts can be handed down through the generations. These talented craftspeople are an investment in the future of the sector and we look forward to hearing more about their progress and helping to tell their story.”

The grant will be managed by the HCA’s Endangered Crafts Fund, which is inviting proposals from people wishing to commit to increasing the likelihood of a Red List endangered craft surviving into the next generation. Successful applicants will receive funding plus mentoring from the HCA’s Endangered Crafts Officer to help them make their proposal a reality.

If you are interested in applying to the HCA Endangered Crafts Fund, you can find more information here. Or you can download the HCA Red List of Endangered Crafts

*A sieve and riddle is the name given to the traditional beech wood and wire mesh hoops, used extensively in mining, agriculture and fishing throughout the last few centuries to sift ballast, gravel and shellfish.