Daniel Carpenter, Executive Director of Heritage CraftsDaniel Carpenter, Executive Director of Heritage Crafts, tells us everything we need to know about this important organisation that puts traditional crafts and intangible cultural heritage front and centre.

If you had to sum up Heritage Crafts in one sentence, what would you say?

"We are the charity set up to celebrate, support and safeguard traditional craft skills, and to facilitate a national conversation about their importance to everyone now and in the future."

What does your organisation feel passionate about?

"Ensuring that the next generation has access to the craft skills and knowledge that have developed over generations, which we believe will be vital in helping them tackle the challenges of the future - as well as to enjoy making as a basic human right.

Social justice is important to us, and we are particularly motivated to ensure that those who have previously been excluded have access to these skills, and that the skills of marginalised communities are recognised and supported.

What does an average week at Heritage Crafts look like?

"There is no average week at Heritage Crafts! There is always something new we are working on, whether that be a new event, or campaign, or launching a new funding opportunity.

In the past 12 months, I have accompanied Heritage Crafts Co-Chair Jay Blades to a secondary school in Rochdale, taken a young woodworker to speak to 200 Civil Servants at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, presented Young Maker of the Year Awards at Windsor Castle, submitted lots of funding applications, spoken about the UK’s attitude toward heritage in Vitré (France), developed a new apprenticeship standard with the Institute for Apprenticeships, taken training bursary recipients to tour the Royal Mint, been interviewed about cricket ball making on BBC Radio, run an event on crafts and young people at the Museum of Making in Derby, and helped launch the fifth edition of the Red List of Endangered Crafts.

There are lots of plates to keep spinning and sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming, but it means we never get bored!

How can a craftsperson get involved in Heritage Craft’s activities – and what are the benefits of being a member?

"We always say that the best way to support our work is by becoming a member, because not only does your small financial contribution help us do our work, but just as importantly you are joining a community of like-minded individuals who care about nurturing craft skills -and it is that community that gives us our mandate. You can find out more on our website here.

Members receive monthly newsletters and features via email, they get access to exclusive events and discounts off our public events, plus maker members get a listing on our Makers’ Directory. Now is a great time to join because April is Members’ Month featuring exclusive events with leatherworker Yusuf Osman, a session on values-led marketing with Cockpit Arts, and a members’ meet-up at Tamworth Castle."

What’s the oldest craft you’re aware of – and the newest?

"The oldest craft in our listing is probably flintknapping, which is making edged tools by breaking flint and other glassy stones in specific ways. It’s simultaneously one of the most accessible crafts (you just need two different stones to bash together) and also the most uncompromising to be able to shape the flint precisely as you want. There are no shortcuts to learning and nowhere to hide from your own judgement when things go wrong! It was recently discovered that the parts of your brain used for flintknapping are the same as those used to learn languages, so it’s intriguing to think of our distant ancestors making the leap to language by exercising their mastery of the bi-face axe head!

New crafts are being developed every year. To be listed as a heritage craft we say a craft needs to have been practiced for two successive generations in order for it to demonstrate a degree of longevity. On that basis, rug tufting is probably one of our newest crafts, having been popularised in the 1970s. It nearly died out in the early 2010s but is now being revived thanks to young people like Denzel Currie (https://www.instagram.com/curriegoat) who is incorporating the craft into his fashion business and sharing the process on Instagram and TikTok."

You have a ‘Red List of Endangered Crafts’ and work a lot with ‘Intangible Cultural Heritage’ – why are these things important?

"Research in 2012 showed that a large proportion of traditional craftspeople were at retirement age, having made no plans to pass their skills on to the next generation. This wasn’t through a lack of wanting to, but those running small businesses couldn’t afford to take time away from their production to train someone without financial help, and government apprenticeships were not geared towards these small niche businesses. Those making on an amateur basis were struggling to find young people with sufficient awareness of these kinds of activities, as the exclusion of creative and practical subjects in schools had reduced youngsters’ craft aspirations. 

As a result of these factors crafts that had been practiced for decades or centuries were on the verge of dying out, or had already gone. These crafts involve what we call ‘tacit’ knowledge; they are very hard to record through writing or film and can only really be passed on through one-to-one transmission. 

So in 2017, we published the first edition of the Red List of Endangered Crafts, the first research report of its kind to rank craft skills by the likelihood that they will survive to the next generation, based on methodology used for endangered species. The project captured the public imagination and was reported widely by the media, allowing us to bring in a bit more support from private trusts and foundations to start making interventions to support the most at-risk examples, and our Endangered Crafts Fund has now given out 66 small grants since 2019. In September 2024. we'll begin work on our fifth edition, which will be published in May 2025.

When we founded Heritage Crafts in 2010 we soon learned that the UK was one of only a few countries in the world not to have ratified the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Safeguarding of Intangible Cultural Heritage; that is the knowledge, skills and practices that make up our heritage alongside the ‘tangible’ historic buildings and museum artefacts. 

Traditional craftsmanship is one of five ‘domains’ of intangible heritage as recognised by UNESCO; others include things like music, dance and festivals. In most other countries there is much more parity of esteem between tangible and intangible heritage, but here few people even recognised knowledge, skills and practices as being part of our heritage. 

After 14 years of our campaigning, the UK government announced in December that we would be finally ratifying the Convention, and since then we have been working closely with the Department of Culture, Media and Sport on the implementation plans, including the creation of a new UK Inventory of Intangible Cultural heritage to be launched this summer.

If you could only pick one item of craftwork to take as your ‘luxury item’ to a desert island, what would it be?

"Having listened to Desert Islands Discs a fair bit, I know that the luxury item isn’t allowed to be anything useful, particularly anything that could be used to build a raft, which is a shame as I would have taken a woodcarving axe made by founding Heritage Crafts Chair Robin Wood. Given that, I will take one of his hooked knives to carve spoons - purely as a leisure activity!"