Last year I worked with the 14-19 Curriculum Director from Peterborough Regional College, Jane Hodges, on a Big Lottery Funded project teaching young people Dry Stone Walling skills in the rural parishes. The group fixed walls that had been in the same place for hundreds of years, with skills that were just as long established. They took real pride from the fact that the walls they were building would continue to be there for another several hundred years and be part of the rural landscape of Peterborough. This month the college will be running a training course for adults in Lime Plaster in association with Landskills and Essex Council, to upskill those who already have some competence in this area.
“Traditional”, “heritage”, “old fashioned”, “practical” construction: however described, the skills being taught are still as useful today as they have ever been. New technologies are constantly being developed but dry stone walls are best fixed and built in ways that have been refined over thousands of years and which have evolved with the landscape. These ‘everyday’ skills are, however, the bedrock of the highly skilled craftspeople that created the city’s medieval cathedral and churches.
In November John Hayes MP gave a talk at the Royal Society of Arts in London on ‘new’ Traditional Skills. He highlighted the need for practical vocational skills, saying he believed that British manufacturing and the practical skills that underpin it must lead to renewed economic growth. Traditional skills are at a premium, as the National Heritage Training Group highlighted in their 2008 report, and so are skills that could be well worth learning for economic reasons.
Hayes used his speech to highlight the lack of people referring to themselves as master craftsmen and the need for vocational training in all practical subjects, in which he includes software designers, and engineers, saying ‘craft is as much about learning to be a film technician as a furniture maker; as much about learning to be a fashion designer as a fishmonger. I want to show that our society will benefit greatly when those that make policy understand what popular culture has always known – that skill, craft and dexterity give our lives meaning and value.’ In this time of rising university fees vocational courses will no doubt come to the fore, and traditional skills have a part to play in this and in economic growth, as they always have done.