It really does give me enormous pleasure to join you here today at this inaugural Craft Skills Awards ceremony. As you may know, these Awards came about following discussions I had with John Hayes, the then Minister of State for Further Education, Skills and Lifelong Learning, who was as keen as I was to ensure we preserve, encourage and nurture the special skills of the craft sector. So I really am so pleased, therefore, that Matthew Hancock, who has taken on this ministerial portfolio, has been so supportive of these Awards.
I have long done what little I can over the years to champion the craft sector, both through my own charities and through my patronage of other organizations. I have a particular interest in heritage craft, and have sought through my own charitable work - particularly, through The Prince’s Trust - to help preserve traditional crafts and to encourage young people to pursue them as a livelihood and a vocation - in part because of course the pursuit of a craft is a marvellous way for somebody to realize their true potential as a human being. Through the Prince’s Trust we have been able to support a remarkable number of people setting up their own enterprises, in all sorts of different fields.
Crafts can bring one closer to Nature: they are a part of the human story of transmission of living tradition and cultural identity from one generation to another. My own charities have therefore integrated the teaching and practice of the crafts throughout their work. For example, my Foundation for Building Community both provides apprenticeships in traditonal building crafts for masons, carpenters, thatchers, bricklayers, stained glass artists and blacksmiths, among other disciplines, and teaches craft principles to architects, planners and adult learners.
My School of Traditional Arts specializes in teaching, researching and promoting the practice and theory of the arts and crafts of the world's great traditions. My Drawing School, as well, has a particularly important part to play in teaching the basics of drawing - a fundamental skill for many crafts people at the end of the day.
These Craft Skills Awards celebrate all that is so special about the craft sector. Today, the sector is a force to be reckoned with, and properly recognized, in the U.K. economy after all, believe it or not, it ranks alongside the petrochemical industry in size and scale and contributes a massive £4.4 billion a year in gross value from the heritage sector alone.
However, one of the great problems facing this sector is that the vast majority 78 per cent in heritage crafts and 88 per cent in contemporary crafts are self-employed and therefore struggle to devote the necessary time to pass on these crucially important and invariably eco-efficient, “sustainable” skills to the next generation. We simply must ensure that these often historic and unique skills are not allowed to die out and become relegated to history.
The recent mapping of the sector shows that there is a serious problem, with 77 per cent of people who work in traditional heritage crafts not being able to pass on their skills due to lack of funding. The enhanced focus on apprenticeship helps in this regard, for it gives young people with an appetite for non-academic careers a clear direction of travel. Thus I can only pray that these awards will serve to increase the awareness and desirability of a path leading into craft as a career.
I warmly congratulate all of today’s winners and indeed runners up and am most grateful to you all for the myriad ways in which I know you support the craft sector.