woman spinning

woman spinning

Mrs. G lived a timbered medieval hall house surrounded by her sheep. She was ancient when I first met her. Her voice, deep and husky from smoking, her face, scrunched brown paper, was all crevasses and troughs. Her clothes were simple tunics in faded ochres, moss greens, indigo blues and rusty madders made up from the nubby fabric she’d spun, dyed and woven. She always wore an apron with a multitude of deep pockets “To protect myself, dear girl, from the wool and lanolin,” she’d growl “and to have somewhere to put things. So important.”

Outside she wore a battered old hacking jacket, tied around with binder-twine “Never, dear girl, be without twine, or a knife. They’ll serve you” and galoshes pulled over her ancient brogues. She smelt of earth, of wool, of wood smoke – the essence of Mother Earth. I loved her.

She taught me spinning, weaving and dying; she taught me about sheep and wool and folk law. She made me look at and feel the countryside; she revealed how man can live in harmony with nature.  Far beyond her time and long after it too. Friend and mentor, she set me on the path I now walk.

Back in the 1970s when I first met Mrs G, our rural skills and trades were withering away and  we were in real danger of loosing a vast font of knowledge, centuries of expertise.  Now things are better.  Rural crafts are being revived –  and more and more of us want to work with nature and the land, not against it.

I’ve many friends and acquaintances involved in a wide variety of these traditional trades. Some started off learning a new skill or craft as a hobby which evolved into small (sometimes not so small) rural businesses. Some gave up the rat race and demanding careers to find a more worthwhile occupation. But all of them, I know, struggle to find funding, whether it’s to help train an apprentice, further their own knowledge or to start or expand a business. While researching information for a piece I was asked to write I came across some very helpful and committed people in various organisations that provide funding for scholarships, apprenticeships and training. So I thought I’d provide a few links and names for those of you interested. Perhaps if you’ve had experience of other sources of helpful funding you could provide a link in your comment for others?

The Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust’s (QEST) aim is to give awards to craftsmen and women of all ages to help them further their careers. Shelley-Anne Claircourt, their press officer, explained to me that back in 1990 this trust was established to celebrate both the 150th anniversary of the Royal Warrant Holders Association and the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Their website gives details of the individuals who’ve recently been awarded scholarships and how you can apply.

Lantra the skills council for vocational training and apprenticeship programmes in environmental and land-based businesses, is passionate about skills and improving business performance., . They help support the individual and represent the interests of around 217,000 businesses and over 1.5 million workers and volunteers in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Contact them on 0845 707 8007 or email connect@lantra.co.uk so they can explain how best Lantra can benefit you. (Vicky Brewin – Marketing and Communications Co-ordinator at Lantra – contacted me with some information concerning the South West. She said ‘In your region we have one funding programme called Women and Work which offers funding to women working in farming and other male dominated industries.   If you would like more information please visit www.lantra.co.uk/WomenandWork.’)

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has just invested an additional £7.3m to support a wide range of specialist skills and training opportunities within the heritage sector.  This will deliver up to 1,000 paid training opportunities for people seeking a career in heritage and will include specialist skills ranging from horticulture to conservation and web design. Katie Owen is a helpful contact to point people in the right direction.

I found that most of the people in the above organisations have good knowledge of other grants available. So do ask them – they’ve done the foot work!

reed cutting in Norfolk

reed cutting in Norfolk