UK: ‘Hands-On, everyone!’

North of England Civic Trust

The conventional image of learning is of a teacher telling students about a subject.  But what if teacher and student were not facing each other, but alongside each other, working hand-in-hand?  That is the principle of the North of England Civic Trust’s Heritage Skills Initiative – a ‘Hands-On’ experience.  In a virtual world, everything from personal handwriting to all kinds of making, are becoming remote experiences; we watch but don’t touch.  Re-connecting the reality of heritage is a sensory experience, not just of the intellect, but of feel.  Cultural heritage around the world is not the sole legacy of intellectual activity but of how minds through the ages have translated the values of societies into places and things and traditions.  We can appreciate intellectual achievement, but we can truly immerse ourselves in the enjoyment of culture.  In a global world, where systems require standardisation to operate, the antithesis is human diversity, where everything from language dialects to the patterns in textiles or the colour of stone, speak of location, location, location; people, people, people.

NECT - Hands-on everyone! - INTOThe world is getting older. The world is getting younger. As older experienced craftsmen retire, fewer and fewer are passing on their skills to a new generation.  We are finding it more difficult to maintain our historic parks, buildings and artefacts because the person that did it last time is no longer there.  The technique has been lost, but so has the story that motivated the hands.  For cultural heritage is an expression, not just meeting the practical needs of necessity.  It is the soul of a society, the spirit of place.  A discovered fragment long-buried in the earth says more about the maker than just function; we are intrigued by other people’s values (“were they like us?”) more than simply knowing what they did.

NECT has struck a chord with so many people who have responded to the opportunity to try their hands on cultural skills by saying ‘Can I do that?!’  Yes you can!!!

Celebrating distinctiveness is central to learning cultural traditions, to passing the baton to the next generation; they are not just being taught ability but to be ambassadors of the meaning of their society.  Young people need not only to inherit skills but the significance of the skills.  But older people too are feeling vulnerable.  In tough economic times, young people cannot enter the workplace, and older people are being squeezed to do more with less.  Learning cultural skills has proved to offer release and opportunity – to be creative in a world of compliance.  Computer-literate teenagers find that they can carve stone, shape hot metal, seal the leaks in a boat.  ‘Desk jockeys’ suddenly find they have hands that can turn wood, fire up historic railway locomotives, restore painted signs.  The measure of success is not the certificate in their hands but the expression on their faces.

For World Heritage Day, make something, and let people see the evidence on your face as well as in your hands!

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