David Linley: Why schools need to rediscover carpentry

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The Independent Online

Craft training in this country is in crisis. We are no longer teaching young people to make things that are beautiful and of very high quality. We are not giving them the chance to learn how to create artefacts to a high standard of design and workmanship. A lot of the design courses in schools and colleges don't incorporate very much making, and a lot of the making courses incorporate too much technology and computers.

Craft training in this country is in crisis. We are no longer teaching young people to make things that are beautiful and of very high quality. We are not giving them the chance to learn how to create artefacts to a high standard of design and workmanship. A lot of the design courses in schools and colleges don't incorporate very much making, and a lot of the making courses incorporate too much technology and computers.

I think there can be no replacement for teaching people how to make things by showing them how to stick two pieces of wood together. Twenty years ago, subjects such as woodwork and metalwork were part of the curriculum. Those subjects have now given way to design technology, which is fine if you want to design things for industry. But the problem is that you need to know about woodwork to design properly in wood. You need to have a feel for the material. The demise of woodwork means that it has become harder for workshops to find people who are adequately trained nowadays. They take people on with no experience of handling wood and have to train them from scratch.

The school I attended, Bedales, was fortunate to have been built by a leading light from the Arts and Crafts Movement in the 1890s. It contained a beautiful library, made originally of green oak and constructed with the help of the children. The Arts and Crafts Movement sprang out of a situation similar to that of today. We live in a technological world where people have a craving for things they can understand. It's something in the human psyche that makes people want to have something that is hand-made around them. But they also want highly efficient technology.

At Bedales I had a fantastic teacher, David Butcher, who taught design and cabinet-making. He showed us how to think for ourselves; he gave us confidence. You wanted to do your best for him. I remember him taking us on a field trip to Parnham House, a college started by John Makepeace to train people who wanted to work in wood. Sadly, it is no more. But it was the perfect place for me because it taught cabinet-making to a very high standard. I went straight there from school.

While at Bedales at the age of 14, I made my first desk, which I still use at home. It was inlaid. All the way through school I was making things, not just furniture but pottery. I made pots before making furniture. You took it in turns to wait up all night to watch the temperature of the kiln. Bedales had a brilliant art master. I learnt to draw, which I try to encourage the boys who work for me to do. I'm trying to encourage them to learn how to look, to be observant.

Parnham taught a two-year course and took 10 students a year. On my first day, we were given a piece of plate glass, some wet and dry paper and told to grind the soles of our plane flat. The course was about building on that experience. We were taught how to make dovetails and inlays and all sorts of things. At school, I made not only a desk but also a dining room table, boxes and various accessories that I used to sell to my fellow pupils. I had a little shop under my bed.

I set up in business immediately after Parnham as a designer-maker. I was fortunate at first to join a workshop with three others in an old bakery in Dorking. Then I moved to the New Kings Road in London. Now I have a medium-sized business employing 38 people and turning over £5.5m to 6m a year.

I'd like to see young people being introduced to a greater number of opportunities at school and not be written off because they are unacademic. I would like to see schools give pupils the chance to do woodworking. The British are a particularly creative people, and it seems a shame to me that they're not given the opportunity to show it.

We are the best in the world for Formula 1 racing. We have shown that creativity can be done in one area, so why can't it be done in another?

Viscount Linley runs a company in London making highly crafted furniture and upholstery

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