Local tradespeople help teach Lancaster schoolchildren their crafts
When Lancaster Steiner School teachers learned that they would have to teach the annual ‘traditional trades’ topic online, they were initially sad that pupils would miss out on visits and demonstrations that had been arranged.
But the school community was delighted when local craftsmen and businesses with Lancashire connections stepped in to provide a series of Zoom workshops to bring the subject to life for the children.
Oak Class pupils saw how wooden musical instruments are made, had a go at some apprentice blacksmithing, and even turned their hands to pottery and baking.
The first session, hosted by Lancaster University graduate-turned-artist and metalsmith Rachel Rosen, combined a demonstration of welding with a hands-on try at hammering lumps of clay into various shapes using blocks of wood as anvils.
The children learned that real blacksmiths also use clay when learning the trade as it acts just like heated iron.
Rachel, who is known as the Scrapyard Queen on YouTube and Instagram, said: “I think most of us learn best by doing, so I wanted to give the young people a simple way to explore a material. It's perfect that clay behaves very similarly to hot metal!
“I am also a real believer in showing young people how to use tools - and do so safely! We have become so 'hands-off' in society I like to bring things back to making and giving confidence in using tools is essential to this.”
Next the pupils had a bread-baking masterclass from Fil Smith, proprietor of well-known Lancaster firm Filberts Bakery. Fil’s joy in baking was infectious, and the children and their families ate well that night, making their dough into dishes from deep-pan pizza to cinnamon rolls.
A change of pace came with a workshop from Phil Bleazey of Lancaster firm P.G. Bleazey Woodwinds, makers of wooden musical instruments. Phil showed the students the full process of how the mouthpiece of a penny whistle was made, starting with an unworked piece of wood.
Phil said: “The remote workshop with the children of the Lancaster Steiner school was a breath of fresh air. It is so important for young people to be aware of and take an interest in traditional crafts, many of which, including flute making, are on the Heritage Craft Association's red list of endangered crafts.
“It must be understood that a university degree is not the only way to achieve a living wage. Respect for one's work and pride in that work are important goals as well.
“I was pleased to receive so many relevant questions from young people who were so obviously interested in hearing about and seeing my work.”
Finally, it was time for the children to try their hands at pottery in a session led by Heather Holt of Lancashire enterprise Practically History.
Heather shared with the children her passion for, and immense historical collection of pottery including a fascinating medieval kettle, bringing to life pottery through the ages.
She then talked them through the technique of how to make a coil pot and a thumb pot out of clay which the children made in their respective homes showing their successful efforts.
Class teacher Angela Welbourne said: “We pride ourselves in an immersive educational approach and were struggling to think how to really bring these traditional trades to life for the children remotely.
"When we contacted local tradespeople and friends asking if it would be possible for them to deliver something via Zoom, they were keen to share their passion for their chosen trade.
“It was amazing how even in these times of social distancing we were able to make a strong connection between the children and the craftspeople.
"A lot of what a child recalls comes from connection to the learning, and through these experiences they were able to make real connections and the high quality of work that was subsequently produced displayed this.
“As a teacher to watch the children sitting on the edge of their seats, listening intently, questioning, fully engaged with the learning material was beautiful, to see the connection develop remotely.”