Tinsmithing is now listed as critically endangered craft in the UK, along with 55 other skills. Image: OZMedia/Canva (CC0)
The Heritage Crafts Association (HCA) has marked twenty crafts as endangered. The organisations so-called “red-list” of skills threatened by extinction in the UK now consist of over 130 crafts. The HCA stated that the ongoing coronacrisis, lockdowns and economic issues left many craftspeople facing serious problems.
Part of the problem is skilled crafts, such as making glass eyes, kilts or hand blown sheet glass, have very few practitioners, a small amount trainees and a lack of knowledge transmission. Four crafts have become extinct in the UK in the last 15 years, including traditional cricket-ball making and lacrosse-stick making, The Guardian reported. The HCA listed 56 crafts as “critically endangered”, while 74 are marked as “endangered”. For now, 110 crafts are considered to a have a “healthy” amount of practitioners.
HCA’s Endangered Crafts Manager Mary Lewis believes modern society is changing rapidly, she told The Guardian. “It is more important than ever that we are aware of the cultural assets still available so that we can have an informed debate about what we want to safeguard as a resource for the future.”
We seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods based on these skills
She fears that if endangered crafts are lost for future generations, they will experience grave consequences. “We seriously diminish the opportunities for future generations to create their own sustainable and fulfilling livelihoods based on these skills.”
While the UK is a world leader in preserving tangible heritage such as buildings, monuments and museum collections, HCA claims the country does not do enough to protect its intangible heritage. For example, the UK is one of the few members of Unesco that has not ratified the convention on the safeguarding of intangible heritage. The HCA fears that government responsibility for heritage crafts falls in the gap between agencies supporting arts and heritage.
However, the picture that traditional crafts will unavoidably go extinct is incorrect. No new skills have become extinct since the HCA’s red-list was last updated in 2019. Gilding (applying a very thin coating of gold to an object) and making wooden sieves by hand have made a modest comeback in the last years. If you want to learn more about endangered crafts, you can check out the documentary below on ladder making.