Crafts kept alive

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The Independent Online
TO PRESERVE our heritage, we need a living craft tradition. We require stone-masons, bookbinders, woodcarvers, gilders and blacksmiths. We also need skilled people to conserve and restore antique furniture, paintings, tapestries, stained glass, ornamental plasterwork, clocks, and upholstery. Without them, the fabric of our heritage will decay.

Training in any craft is long and poorly paid. So it was fitting that in 1990 the Royal Warrant Holder's Association celebrated the Queen Mother's 90th birthday, and the 150th anniversary of its own founding, by creating The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust. This provides scholarships for crafts and skills training. The Trust has so far made cash awards of between pounds 1,800 and pounds 12,000 to 57 men and women aged between 18 and 53. In May it announced seven awards this year.

Winners include James Shoulder, a bespoke joiner who will attend a course, (the first for 30 years), to learn the disappearing skill of hand building geometrical staircases and handrailings. James Mackay, an early musical instrument maker, will learn violin repair from a leading expert.

Lucy Turner is a puppeteer who will spend five months with London's Movingstage Marionette Company to gain advanced training in carving marionettes and then six weeks with the principal puppet designer and maker at the Teatro Del Carretto at Lucca in Italy.

This year's winners were chosen from 170 applications. The criteria used by the Trust were described by Alan Britten, President of the Royal Warrant Holder's Association, at the Association's annual luncheon last June. He said: "We are not in the business of supporting individuals who, after a lifetime selling widgets decide it would be fun to restore stained glass - romantic, admirable, but not for us. There has to be evidence of existing achievement, of practical skill, of demonstrated excellence."

Christopher Rowe, the Trust's Chairman, said that what differentiates them from other awards is that "we are not limited in the amount we can give in any one scholarship. If someone really needs to go away and learn a skill ...we want that to be the focus of all their attention."

In its first eight years the Trust has given almost pounds 50,000 a year in scholarships. However, Mr Rowe says the trustees plan to double this within ten years.

"It's very rewarding and encouraging to see so many people with such a lot of talent. If one can harbour that talent, and give it a bit more focus, one is doing something very worthwhile," he said.