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Intelligent Hands | Why making is a skill for life

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Image: Cleo Mussi Mosaics, photo Carmel King

Making is good for us. Using our hands benefits our cognitive development, improves our mental agility and can have a positive impact on our mental health, too. We know this, intuitively and intellectually yet, recent years have seen a decline in craft and creative education in schools (60% fewer young people have taken art and design GCSE over the last 12 years) and a shift from practical to theoretical learning models in higher education. 

The impact on the craft sector is evident. Young people are leaving school with no idea that craft-based careers are even possible, and graduates of craft-based degree courses are entering the workplace with so few hand skills that their employers must train them from scratch. 

But the ripples of this decline are being felt in wider society too. Disruptive behaviour in school, for example, has reached unprecedented levels, with referral units for children who have been excluded from mainstream schools warning they have reached capacity. And as we hurtle into the fourth industrial revolution, we risk losing the craft skills which make humans unique. As Tristram Hunt, Director of the Victoria & Albert Museum wrote in a recent piece for the Observer, “the digital age demands more, not less creativity in schools and families. It is through play and imagination that we can rise above the robots.” (‘Move over, stuffed teddies. Museums today need more to stimulate young minds,’ 24th June 2023).

Intelligent Hands: Why making is a Skill for Life investigates the cognitive benefits of craft in life-long learning and brings together existing research and information in an accessible format to make the case for working with our hands. 
The authors are on a mission to enlighten the uninitiated  and persuade the nay-sayers who dismiss craft as no more than a nice hobby or believe that doing things with your hands is for those who can’t use their heads. And for the converted, they offer ammunition for funding applications, inspiration for those who plan school curricula and further reading for particular specialities. 

Divided into three sections and interwoven with the personal stories of ten makers, the book looks at how physical labouring became separated from academic study, how we became divorced from the materials that surround us and the important role that the crafts and creativity play in education, not just for the lower streams, but for everyone. 

Intelligent Hands | Contents
Foreword by Jay Blades MBE, co-chair of Heritage Crafts and presenter of The Repair Shop on BBC. 

Zoe Collis at Two Rivers Paper, photo: Alison Jane Hoare

Intelligent Hands | Part I – Mind + Body
The nature of work, mind vs body and what constitutes ‘good work.’ Why is the academic valued more than practical work? 
Plus stories from

  • George Siddons– PPE graduate turned apprentice carpenter 
  • Zoe Collis – Journeyman papermaker
  • Daniel Carpenter – CEO Heritage Crafts

Intelligent Hands Part II – Education + Learning
On apprenticeships, sloyd and experiential learning. A brief history of progressive educational theories

Plus Stories from:

  • Jay Patel – architect, alumnus of The Creative Dimension Trust
  • Christian Ovonlen – artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation IntoArt  
  • Lasmin Salmon – textile artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation Action Space
  • Horace Lindezey – artist, member of learning disabilities arts organisation Venture Arts 
  • Helen Brown – art teacher at a Pupil Referral Unit 
  • Dr Bryson Gore – ‘Inventor in Residence’ at a Nottingham Primary School
Christian Ovonlen at Intoart, the winner of the Brookfield Properties Craft Award 2022 photo: Alun Callender

Intelligent Hands | Part III – Wellbeing + Activism
Therapeutic craft, touch and flow. How making can help control impulsivity (and change the world).

Plus stories from

  • Sam & Jacob – members of Nailsworth Community Workshop 
  • Sue Brown – print artist. The focus is on her lockdown project Same Sea, Different Boat
  • Ags & Kam – members of London-based maker space Everyone’s Warehouse
  • Sarah Corbett, The Craftivist Collective
  • Betsan Corkhill, Stitchlinks
  • Betsy Greer, ‘Craftivism’

Intelligent Hands | Jay Blades MBE
Jay is dyslexic and, after leaving school at 15 with no qualifications, he found his true vocation in restoration and supporting young and vulnerable people to find their own access to work. 

Known across the UK as the host of BBC One’s extraordinarily successful The Repair Shop, it is perhaps no coincidence that his belief in the restoration of objects stems from a belief that humans too can be repaired, fixed and rejuvenated. His restoration company, Jay & Co, aims to ’save the world’ through craft. Working with recycled, reclaimed and reused materials, accessories, furniture, and fabric, they create pieces that are as good as new, and help develop a more holistic approach to interiors. Jay is currently co-chair of Heritage Crafts.

Intelligent Hands | Authors

Charlotte Abrahams is a writer and curator specialising in design and the applied arts. She trained at Central St Martin’s and since then has written regularly for the national and international press, including Guardian Weekend and the Financial Times. She is the author of several books about pattern and wallpaper and one on the Danish concept of Hygge. She is less good at making than the people she writes about, but she is teaching herself to darn. 

Katy Bevan is a writer and educator specialising in craft and mother of a disabled child. She is the editor of many books on craft and writes for textile and craft magazines such as Selvedge and a trustee of Heritage Crafts. Previously at the Crafts Council she founded the publishing company Quickthorn Ltd in 2022. She blogs at The Crafter , runs workshops in darning, crochet and knitting and is mostly to be found making something.

Intelligent Hands | Launch event Crafts Alive, Rodmarton Manor 13–17 Sept, panel discussion 2.15pm 17 Sept. 

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