Deborah Pocock LVO, CEO of the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, discusses the importance of keeping traditional crafts alive and supporting excellence in a huge range of disciplines

Since the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust (QEST) was founded in 1990 by the Royal Warrant Holders Association on the occasion of HM Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother’s 90th Birthday, the charity has come a long way from those first six awards. Today, with HRH The Prince of Wales as its Patron, there are more than 600 craftspeople who have benefited from QEST funding, totalling some £5million. The core mission of the charity – funding the training and education of talented and aspiring craftspeople through traditional college courses, vocational training, apprenticeships, or one on one training with a master craftsperson – has not changed since its inception and QEST is proud to continue to play its part in helping to support Britain’s cultural heritage, sustaining vital skills in traditional and contemporary crafts.

The evolving tradition of craft is key – it is not simply about preserving the past but also ensuring that craft skills are kept alive by relevancy and commercial reality – and that these skills, crucially, are passed on to the next generation.

QEST supports a hugely diverse range of crafts and people from across the UK – around 130 disciplines over the past 30 years – including sculpture, carpentry and woodworking, basket weaving, orcharding, bookbinding, stonemasonry, jewellery- making, textiles, ceramics, leather working, printmaking, silversmithing, and more – representing makers with a wealth of skill and knowledge, respect for traditions but with an abundance of innovative spirit.

Decorative Artist Melissa White has brought an ancient craft up to date by taking the experience of her QEST Scholarship in Elizabethan paintings and the traditions of the Tudor painter stainers, to create scenic artwork for contemporary wallpapers and fabric. Silversmith Rod Kelly – himself a QEST Scholar – has now taught seven scholars in silver chasing at his Shetland workshop; and Annemarie O’Sullivan, basket-weaver, has recently taken on an apprentice, Matilda Grover. Oluwamuyiwa Fadairo, a recent QEST Apprentice, aspires to become a bespoke shoemaker and is working with John Lobb – who have been making the finest shoes and boots for gentlemen since 1866 – to provide Oluwamuyiwa with the best possible training to help him achieve his ambition.

QEST’s alumni are drawn from all corners of the UK, including a kilt-maker in Scotland, a willow artist in Northern Ireland, a Cornish coppersmith, and a textile weaver from Wales; and some are working in crafts rooted in their location, like watchmakers Craig and Rebecca Struthers in Birmingham’s Jewellery Quarter. The Struthers are now making their own in-house watch movement, the first to be created in Birmingham for more than a century, inspired by one of the first machine-made English watch movements from 1880, picking up where late 19th-century British watchmaking left off.

Many have studied abroad to acquire knowledge to enrich their practice back in the UK – travelling to Italy to study the origins of fresco and mosaic work, or to the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, renowned for the creative use of glass in art and design. Andy Swinscoe’s QEST Scholarship enabled him to undertake training in the intricate art of affinage (the ageing of cheese) in France with Hervé Mons – widely regarded as the best affineur in the world. After returning to the UK, Andy opened his own specialist cheese shop: The Courtyard Dairy, in 2012. The Courtyard Dairy was created with the ethos to sell only the best cheese available from the British Isles; and by doing so, to champion and support the few remaining independent farmhouse cheesemakers. It has gone on to win many national and international awards.

Whilst the primary objective is to provide funding for training, QEST also provides other support for its alumni – platforms for exhibitions, collaborations, and profile-building opportunities (explore the directory of makers).

Photo by Sylvain Deleu

Alice Walton. Mirasi Lock. Photo by Sylvain Deleu

For the first time, in 2019, QEST exhibited at Collect, the leading international art fair for modern craft and design; and a new initiative in 2021 has seen the Charity partner with Cockpit Arts, a business incubation centre for makers in London, to provide a virtual Professional Development Programme for new scholars, providing essential business skills and helping makers build sustainable careers. Another important collaboration has been with The Prince’s Foundation on a Building Arts Programme. At the heart of this programme is the idea that the built environment is a collaboration between a vast array of different discipline areas, which are all fundamentally linked and interrelated. The programme encourages a holistic view of the world around us, looking to demonstrate the significant role that design, building arts, and decorative and traditional crafts can play in creating places and spaces of both value and meaning.

QEST’s focus on excellence has ensured that many of those it has supported have become leaders in their craft fields, working in leading museums and institutions such as the Royal Collection Trust; Victoria & Albert Museum; National Portrait Gallery; Tate Modern and Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, to name but a few. Saddler Helen Reader will take on the prestigious role of President of the Master Saddlers Association in the autumn; woodturner Eleanor Lakelin has recently had a piece acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum; and paintings conservator Rebecca Hellen is a specialist advisor for paintings conservation at the National Trust. Ceramicist Peter Ting is now also a QEST Trustee and, through his gallery Ting-Ying, represents a number of QEST Scholars, including Alice Walton a more recent scholar and RCA graduate, whose intriguing labyrinthine forms have attracted international acclaim translating the seemingly familiar into highly complex and multi-layered porcelain objects. Goldsmith Kayo Saito exhibited as one of Goldsmith Hall’s Rising Stars in 2007. Her work is inspired by plants, trees, and the natural world and Kayo is renowned for the exquisite delicacy of her creations, which appear as fragile as paper. A QEST Scholarship allowed Kayo to work with the natural form of semi-precious stones, learning to cut, carve, and polish them. Among others, she learnt from Charlotte De Syllas, an early QEST Scholar.

This is just a snapshot of the QEST alumni – pushing boundaries, using their craft to educate, inform, and innovate. Whether they are a saddler or a jeweller, a shoemaker or a ceramicist, a thatcher or a milliner, their contribution to the craft sector is significant. British craftsmanship is envied the world over and it is critical that essential craft skills are carried forward for generations to come.

For further information on QEST and how to support – by becoming a Friend or making a donation, click here.