A Final Nail In the Coffin for Traditional Crafts?

Recent research into the state of health for our body of our traditional skills has shown some alarming results.

What Are We Losing?

Two recent pieces of research, one by the Heritage Crafts Association and the other by Ordnance Survey of 2000 Britons revealed that traditional skills are dying. Between them they cite; map and compass reading, darning, clog making, saw and spade making, tanning leather, swill basket making, identifying wild plants, wagon building, starting a fire, wiring a plug, changing a tyre and baking bread. Some skills are so rare they are on a critical ‘red’ list by the HCA at risk of becoming extinct as the last craftsperson dies. It is not just Britons that are losing traditional skills – a similar piece of research from Australia found that ‘Generation Y women can’t do the chores their mothers and grandmothers did daily’ and that ‘only 51% of women under 30 can cook a roast compared to 82% of baby boomers’. It also reported that ‘only 23% can grow a plant from a cutting while 78% of older women say this is a breeze’. Also interesting is the fact that young men are more likely to be able to change a nappy than a car wheel. (The Courier-Mail).


What Are We Gaining Instead?

It is a natural stage of all civilisations that with the event of a new technological age, traditional skills get left behind. The OS survey found modern life skills for us that are considered essential today and which now replace the old skills are tasks such as:

Following a sat nav
Finding wifi
Using a smart phone
Installing computer programs
Working a tablet
Managing several labour saving devices at once.

Why Are We Losing Them?

In the OS Technology Survey of 2,000 Britons they found that most people believe technology is leaving people less skilled The study found almost eight in ten blame the decline of these skills on technology, while another 54 per cent think it’s due to children no longer learning them at school. Australia Social researcher Mark McCrindle said: “Women of today tend to be busier, juggling more roles, and are quite prepared to compromise a bit of the homemade just to save some time.”They also have a lot more disposable income compared with their mums and their grandmothers so buying a cake mix is not a big deal.”

The research all suggests that we are losing traditional skills for the following four reasons:

new technology replacing old skills,
schools not teachIng old skills,
us wanting convenience due to time pressure of busy lives
and more available income creating a buy-it-in and bin -it culture.

But, so what?! Isn’t this just evolution?

What Are The Consequences of This Skill Shift?

In years gone by, these skills would have been considered essential for everyday life. The report found that ninety-four per cent of people questioned believe there could soon be entire generations who have no idea how to do some of the skills once considered essential. Today, whatever we think (or just don’t think) technology, however great it is, isn’t invincible. The OS report warns; ‘There are times when it can let you down’ and ‘even if it’s a skill you think you no longer need, it’s important to have at least a basic grasp of it – basic map reading skills are vital as sometimes, batteries and phone signals let you down and map reading is an essential skill which could save your life’. Pressures on global food security coupled with no individual knowledge on how to grow, forage or prepare real food could see famine here with people surrounded by food potential but lacking the knowledge to realise it.

What can we do?

Ninety Three per cent of people asked in the HCA survey think teaching these skills
should be brought back into school so younger generations are taught them
from a young age. Greta Bertram, who led the red list research on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association said ‘We would like to see the government recognise the importance of traditional crafts skills.

So, we can hope maybe that the government will offer some protection of endangered traditional crafts eg through funding craftspeople to take on apprentices and also making these skills part of the national curriculum. Or, we can take it into our own soft, smooth hands and learn some traditional skills ourselves. With online learning and hundreds of day and evening courses around the country in everything from blacksmithing, to horticulture, to cookery via basketry and hurdle making to dry stone walling… we have no limit of opportunity to learn things for ourselves and pass the skills on to our own children. The figures for this behaviour uptake however are as sorry as the figures for the extinction of the crafts themselves… although ’86% of people questioned claimed they wished they were better at some of the traditional skills only 16% were making a conscious effort to try to improve their knowledge in them’. Come on Crafters, put down your gadget and pick up a course!