Written by HRH The Prince of Wales for the Mail on Sunday, 11th March 2018
In the spring of 1981, I visited Brixton following the riots there and spoke to groups of young people about why they felt so frustrated and angry and how these feelings had played a part in sparking some of the worst rioting that the country had seen for many years. It was through these conversations, and others like them, that I began to see where my recently launched Prince's Trust might be able to help people with the talent and ambition, but not necessarily the opportunity, to succeed.
More than forty years later I am proud that, through the dedicated work of all those people involved with my Trust, we have been able to help more than 870,000 vulnerable young people to develop the confidence and skills to live, to learn and to earn. Indeed, an independent report published in 2016 calculated this approach has delivered more than £1.4bn of benefit to society in the last decade alone. I am delighted to say that much of what we have learned from our work with young people in the U.K. is now about to be shared with new offshoots of The Prince's Trust around the world, including in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
In the decades following that early visit, I have also been trying to help, in some small way, other areas of British life that I feel particularly concerned about, and where I have felt I might be able to make a difference.
Now, as I reach something of a milestone in my own life later this year, I have been reflecting on how best to take that work forward to ensure my charities can keep doing the best for those people that they have been set up to help. One of the biggest changes involves the work I have been doing with the built environment – our homes and communities.
As I have travelled around this country, over many years now, I have come across some of the most fascinating buildings and architectural masterpieces that can be found anywhere in the world (alongside, of course, some that are not quite in that category…).
The thoughtful planning, design and craftsmanship that, for centuries, have gone into creating some of the best-loved and most characterful aspects of our communities has, I believe, had a direct and positive impact on the people who live in them.
Sadly, however, it has become only too clear that the very skills that have helped create these wonderful places are now at risk of dwindling to the point where, if we had to start again tomorrow, it is far from certain whether we would have the knowledge or experience to recreate them.
Stonemasons, carpenters, and other artisanal craftsmen and women who specialize in a whole range of unique heritage crafts, have been disappearing at an alarming rate. Their skill seems too often swept aside in a race for cheaper, faster building techniques that often produce homogenised, monocultural buildings that are not in harmony with the natural environment in which they appear and offer little consideration for the people who live in them.
That is not to say, of course, that any good building must be an old building or have a classical portico – I simply believe that new construction should respect the timeless principles of proportion, scale and local identity and be sympathetic to their surrounding environment, whatever that may be.
In addition to the depletion of these building and design skills, the elements that link communities to the natural environment around them are also under threat. Our understanding of where our food comes from and, by extension, what makes a healthy diet, has in some cases, disappeared altogether.
It concerns me deeply that there are now groups of children who, for example, could not tell you which animal produces the milk you might have for breakfast. This lack of knowledge of food and farming can only signal bad news for future generations who are already besieged by processed food filled with sugar and preservatives of every kind.
Over the years, in response to all this, I have founded a range of different charities which I have now had reviewed in order to see if we could reinforce work already underway to help address these issues. Following this independent review, we are combining the areas of culture, heritage, built environment and community education, currently operating in four individual charities, into a new, larger organization to be called The Prince's Foundation. This will build on the work of my Dumfries House Trust over the last eleven years, where I have already seen how bringing different organisations together significantly magnifies their overall impact.
My hope is that by creating a place where we can teach building, design, textile and STEM skills alongside food and farming education programmes, we can begin not only to create the vocational capacity to protect, regenerate and re-use our historic heritage, but also to create our future heritage, and to inspire a new generation to adopt healthier and more sustainable ways of living in their communities. This is the sort of practical action to which I attach the greatest importance as, I suspect, do countless other parents and grandparents.
I have long believed in a genuinely integrated approach to the way we deal with the challenges of the world around us. I believe that everyone deserves a chance to succeed and that the best can be achieved through giving people the skills, knowledge and, above all, the self-confidence to do so.
I am determined that through the work of my expanded Prince's Trust Group and my new Prince's Foundation, there will be more people who can not only succeed for themselves but, in doing so, will allow our communities to thrive.
After all, this very special country is fundamentally a national community made up of countless different, smaller communities whose individual character and identity are based on the maintenance of essential vocational skills. That is why they matter so much, whatever age we live in.