Festival of Imagination Battling Extinction of Heritage Crafts

A festival set in the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution is doing all it can to get people to support its heritage crafts and stop skilled trades becoming extinct. Over 200 of the nation’s much-loved heritage crafts are in real danger of dying out forever and becoming extinct.

The Festival of Imagination in the Ironbridge Gorge in September will showcase traditional skilled crafts such as metalwork, coracle making, ceramic flower making, clay pipe making and wool spinning.

In Ironbridge Gorge, a UNESCO world heritage site in the West Midlands, there is a real pride in its historic crafts which include bicycle-frame making, ceramics and pottery.

The Heritage Crafts Association Red List saw the amount of heritage crafts which are endangered rise from 169 in 2017 to 212 in 2019. The association is backed by its president Prince Charles who has an admiration for craftspeople who can strike the delicate balance between producing work that speaks to the needs of the present, while honouring a lineage of practice stretching back into the past.

One business in the Ironbridge Gorge making a success of a skilled craft is Bicycles By Design run by Peter Bird and Robert Wade, who over the past 38 years have won many awards for their products and designs.

Both Peter and Robert are two of only about 15 to 20 craftsmen in the UK making handmade bespoke bicycle frames.  There are only about 450 purely bespoke handmade frames built a year and heritage crafts need to keep up to pace with technology such as electric bicycles, believes Robert.

“Technology has moved forward. Batteries and motors for bikes have got smaller and more efficient, so being able to incorporate that into a bespoke frame is something that is going to be very important in the future,” said Robert.

Robert Wade, left, from Bicycles By Design and Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis

Robert Wade, left, from Bicycles By Design and Endangered Crafts Officer Mary Lewis.

The Festival of Imagination runs from September 14-29.