Mike Turnock’s traditional craft skills plugged by MPs

June 27, 2009 at 2:50 pm Leave a comment

Tom Levitt MP visits the workshop of Mike Turnock

by Tony Grew

The MP for High Peak and a junior minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport have heaped praise on the skills of a Derbyshire craftsman.

During an adjournment debate last week, Tom Levitt said his constituent Mike Turnock is well-known for his hand-made garden soil sieves, “the like of which may be found in garden centres up and down the country.”

“These are beautiful objects: they are rugged, good to hold, efficient and long lasting, and just so much nicer than the plastic equivalents that so many gardeners use today,” he told the House.

“In his father’s day there would have been three or four men working in this workshop, and two or three similar workshops not too far away, but not today.

“Mike is the only person left in the country making these handmade sieves as far as I know.

“He only supplies garden centres in two regions of England.”

Mr Levitt said that other craft skills are in equally short supply, “which is ironic at a time when premium products such as these can sell on the basis of their quality and command a good price.”

He quoted DCMS figures.

“There are 157,400 registered creative businesses in this country, and they have growth rates faster than the economy as a whole.

“The Crafts Council recently launched its “Crafts Blueprint” for creative industries, and said:

“New research undertaken by Creative & Cultural Skills has identified that craft generates almost £3 billion to the UK economy each year making it the fourth biggest sector”—

within the creative industries—

“after design, performing arts and music…Given that over 80% of the sector comprises small businesses employing 1-5 people, improving skills is essential to ensure this growth continues in the coming years.”

“The craftspeople concerned include the sieve maker, the rake maker, the handmade cutlery maker and others.

“They do not necessarily make objects of beauty or of stunning magnificence, which seems to be the focus of the craft-based media, but functional, traditional objects that require just as much skill to make as well as requiring a true sense of heritage and basic human purpose.

“We all know someone called Smith, Turner, Potter, Fletcher, Barker, Cartwright or even Thatcher. Those were the names originally given to those people who founded the crafts heritage in this country.”

Mr Levitt said the last professional pole-lathe bowl turner in the country is at work in his constituency.

“Making garden sieves is not going to bring this country out of recession, but it is a part of our tradition and it ought to have a future,” he said.

“I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will tell us exactly how she will support the forgotten parts of the world of creative industries in the future.”

Barbara Follett, Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport said “no serious gardener, anxious to keep his or her soil in good tilth, would be without a good quality riddle—and, as my hon. Friend has made clear, should they be in need of one, his constituent Michael Turnock is just the man to supply it.”

“Mr. Turnock and his one-man riddle-making business in Whaley Bridge are well known locally for their high-quality products,” she said.

“His skills have also attracted national interest, and that makes it all the more sad and surprising that, so far, Mr. Turnock has failed to find anyone who wants to take over his business.

“However, Mr. Turnock’s story is, unfortunately, all too familiar.

“Mechanisation and new materials have taken over the labour-intensive and time-consuming processes required to make one particular type of tool by hand.

“In fact, estimates made in 2004 suggested that, along with Mr. Turnock’s, only six businesses in England still make that sort of craft product—three horse collar makers, two besom broom producers and one oak spale basket maker.

“The picture is not much brighter even among better known crafts such as thatching, saddling or timber framing, where the number of people employed totals little more than 1,000.

“If as Mr. Turnock and others insist, craft products are in high demand, all that is missing are trainees or apprentices willing to take up placements in craft-based firms.”

Ms Follett said the Heritage Lottery Fund has awarded more than £446 million to 1,300 projects that have delivered heritage skills training, “not only in blacksmithing, textiles and paper conservation, but traditional building skills, such as using lime mortar and dry-stone walling.”

The fund has also has helped to train new masons, hedge layers and millwrights.

“We do not want to preserve things for their own sake; we want to preserve them because of what they add to our country and to what it has to offer,” Ms Follett told the House.

“As Minister with responsibility for tourism, I know how much that offer is worth to our economy every year.

“I also know how important it is to get people involved. My hon. Friend may or may not have heard of the recent phenomenon of yarn bombing: think Banksy meets the Women’s Institute.

“It is guerrilla knitting in the public realm. Its legality is still uncertain, but its creativity is not.

“It is a wonderful example of a centuries-old tradition being made relevant for today.

“I hope that we can offer an opportunity to uphold the heritage that men like Mr. Turnock have preserved for us, and can make that heritage relevant and accessible to everybody.”


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