Prince's Foundation Apprenticeship Awards
29 Feb 2012, Prince's Foundation, Shoreditch
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Your Royal Highness, ladies and gentlemen.
Since the earliest times, ours has been a country that loves beauty and the skills of the craftsmen and women who produce it.
It seems particularly apt to remember here in Shoreditch how great is the inheritance the centuries have bequeathed to us and our responsibility to pass on in our turn a culture embellished by what we do.
This was, after all, the centre of two of our great craft industries, silk- and furniture-making. It was also just a few minutes’ walk away from here that Richard Burbage opened the first theatre in England, the famous “wooden O” mentioned in the prologue to Henry V, which was first performed there.
Today, the presence of the Prince’s Foundation and bodies like the Shoreditch Arts Club maintain the link between the echoes of the past and the sounds of the present. Indeed, this event, and today’s award-winners, suggest that we continue to take to heart Milton’s injunction:
“Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.”
I was thinking to myself this morning, if the whole of this treasure-house of a country were on fire, what would you or I go back to rescue from the flames? I suppose that some people might grab a first folio of Shakespeare, others The Fighting Temeraire. Many might wish to save a domestic object of beauty. Beauty is humble and in its essence simple.
I could perhaps choose the hammerbeamed ceiling of Westminster Hall, commissioned by King Richard II and which I have the privilege to enjoy every day on my way to work when Parliament is sitting. Emblematic as it is of our people’s love of beauty, for example. Of their skill in the crafts needed to give beauty form. Of the golden thread of caftsmanship, faithfully passed down from one generation to the next, for over a thousand years. And of the long history of His Royal Highness’ family in sponsoring craftsmen and their work.
Of course, our personal interfaces with beauty are quite arbitrary, as such things always are. But for my part, I would find it hard to look further than the Alfred Jewel, a functionless – in some experts’ view at least - object which nevertheless speaks of many of the things that bring us all together here today. Or indeed, I might have chosen Edward the Confessor’s great Abbey church, which I also walk past most mornings.
As these great monuments and this jubilee year alike remind us, the royal family is woven into the very fabric of our long history and of our shared consciousness in a very similar way to the works of art and craft that are our shared heritage that define what we feel; what we are. These symbols like the monarchy itself are the familiar touchstones of enduring certainty.
Here today, the young craftsmen and women who had benefited from a Prince’s Foundation Apprenticeship draw all these things to mind.
I thank God that even in the twenty-first century, British culture is about more than computer-games.
Now, the UK’s craft sector is among the richest and most diverse of our creative and cultural industries, comprising a real diversity of practice and consistently demonstrating the real excellence that we have come to expect.
Modern British craft ranges from innovative work that is experimental in design, purpose and use of materials, to traditional craft that supports and preserves our cultural heritage. It covers a spread of material disciplines from textiles to ceramics, woodwork to jewellery and a range of products from small portable items to architectural structures of considerable scale.
The sector contributes a much-needed £3 billion to the UK economy each year and also helps to sustain our cultural heritage, supporting tourism and our sense of our place in the world, contributing to the strength and wellbeing of our society.
Although British crafts have sometimes suffered neglect in recent times, with an all too frequent cultural focus on the ephemeral, I know that His Royal Highness feels as strongly as I do that those of us with the power to do so have a duty to support the craft sector, and do all that we can to preserve the intrinsic skills that underpin it and the virtuous endeavour that they embody. To do so is to understand the axiom that, by scale alone, the past and the future are more significant than the preoccupations of the moment; then and when matter more than here and now.
Craft Skills Advisory Board
Recognising this challenge, earlier this year my Department established a new craft skills advisory board to ensure that the voice of the craft community is heard at the very centre of government. We are also currently supporting a major new mapping project into the skills needs of the heritage craft sector. I want to stress, too, how important the role of Creative & Cultural Skills is becoming in ensuring that our need for craft skills and new blood in the craft sector, is met.
As a case in point, I warmly welcome Creative & Cultural Skills’ new plan to put in place a new Craft Apprenticeship. This will be available for the academic year 2013-14 and apprentices will be able to choose from a variety of pathways, each one focusing on a specific craft occupation.
I know that Creative & Cultural Skills is also investigating new delivery mechanisms for this Apprenticeship, with a view to finding a suitable way of enabling sole traders and individual craft practitioners to be involved.
To date Creative & Cultural Skills has placed over 1,000 apprentices in the creative and cultural industries, a sector which is made up of a proliferation of small and micro-businesses. An independent evaluation has proven the success of this high-quality programme, with over 89 per cent of apprentices being offered work in the sector after the completion of their training.
All this may not exactly amount to a new dawn for craft in this country, but we can say for certain that the sector’s prospects look brighter now than they have for many years.
Before I close by speaking of future awards, I want to pay tribute to the present craftsmen among us today; to offer my warmest congratulations to all the Prince’s Foundation Apprentices who are with us here today and hope that you will join me now in expressing your appreciation of their achievements.
I am especially delighted to be able to announce today the introduction of a new set of Awards for Craft Skills. I am honoured to say that they have been inspired in no small measure by His Royal Highness’ unwavering advocacy of crafts and those who teach and learn them. But, Your Royal Highness, your leadership of so many great causes is still greater.
It personifies the relationship between the best of all that we’ve been with the best that we can be. Harvesting good practice from the past, feeding best practice to sustain all our futures - surely never better embodied than by the Prince’s Trust.
So the aim of the awards will be to enable the sector to support and celebrate all the great work being done in the transference of craft skills to a new generation.
Rather than simply rewarding excellence in craft practice, the awards will reward excellence in teaching, maintaining and developing both one’s own and others’ craft skills. They will seek to reward individuals and groups large and small and celebrate the myriad examples of excellence across the sector.
I have commissioned Creative & Cultural Skills to develop these awards over the coming months. News of them will I hope inspire a new generation of craftsmen to shape a legacy of beauty; to craft a future of which we can all feel proud.