Wednesday, 13 February 2019

A Bright Spark in the World of Woodworking Magazine Editors.

Life takes many twists and turns when circumstances suddenly force change. I have worked with many editors of Woodworking magazines but none comes to mind so much as Nick Gibbs who eventually got to publish his own woodworking magazines.

Sadly Nick suffered a brain injury in 2014 having been knocked off his bike and this changed his life dramatically. I knew Nick as far back as the 1980's when he was the youngest editor of The Woodworker, Britain's top woodworking magazine. Unusually bright, Eton educated but very much a man of the people, he was very good at thinking outside the box and I joined him in the early 90's when he set up Good Woodworking magazine at Future Publishing in Bath. I was an associate editor and wrote many articles for him and tested tools and there was a sense of fun in the editorial office.

Nick was promoted to senior management at Future and then took the bold move to set up his own publishing company (Freshwood) and he launched British Woodworking and another magazine called Living Woods. Again he asked me to write for him and I know he enjoyed pushing the boundaries and involving me in mildly controversial articles such as questioning the Holy Grail of the Dovetail used by cabinetmakers.

After Nick's brain injury and long period in a coma he lost his job, his career which I believe was his passion. Many of us who have gone through brain traumas to a degree understand that even the smallest brain malfunction and that sudden loss of faculties taken for granted can cause major life changes. The brain is so finely wired, we still know little about it although we can fly rockets to Mars. 

Nick was an exceptionally bright spark in the world of magazine editorial and a key figure at Britain's fastest growing publisher - Future Publishing in Bath. Good woodworking was Future Publishing's flagship magazine in the 1990's, groundbreaking in its highly visual format and jargon busting text boxes, de-mystifying woodworking to mortal men and women.

The last time I heard of Nick was that he was sitting outside Bath Abbey carving wooden spoons with a penknife, curiously as outside that same Abbey I would busk on my guitar but not on that day.

I understand Nick has an active blog and quite philosophical in some of his postings about his life after being an editor for so long. I wish him well 

Thursday, 7 February 2019

Depriving Youngsters of Practical Experience

I passed out of Shoreditch College, the leading UK Handicraft Teacher training college in 1966 - with a Distinction in Advanced Woodwork. I went on to teach in numerous schools and leading colleges including Bristol Polytechnic where I trained CDT teachers and more recently (2009) I was invited to become an inspector for The British Accreditation Council (for Independent Higher Education) based on my vast and varied experience in Education. I didn't apply for the job but was invited and to this day don't know who put my name forward.

Added to that I have run YTS courses where the Government of the day sponsored young people to work alongside me serving as a valuable stepping stone in their career path. I have also run successful private courses and taken on young people for informal but intensive work experience programmes and in particular from Finland. 

It disturbs me that whereas I was almost priviliged to have by chance an exceptional and inspiring school woodwork teacher who set me on a path I would walk again today if I was 17, the opportunity for most young people to engage in practical education today is diminishing

This is little short of scandalous because the skills go way beyond that of training someone to become a carpenter or plumber. These are enabling, transferrable problem-solving life skills and I have documented them fully elsewhere (eg RSA Comment:Practical Arts in Education and Society.

A 6 minute video showing work experience opportunities offered by me 
in woodworking,  CNC, vehicle restoration and video production. 

The opportunity is not just diminishing because the focus on secondary education is away from engineering, manufacturing, making - in fact for jobs we don't know will exist in this rapidly changing technological age, but there is almost a deliberate and systemmatic block under the name of 'political correctness' that is shooting us in the foot. 

Not long ago schools claimed it was too expensive to maintain workshops and lacked the imagination that quality materials can be found in skips for young people to create things with. That kills two birds with one stone as it addresses the serious issue of the throw away society.

Health and Safety became another block and devoid of flexibility and common sense risk assessment in a case-by-case scenario and whereas the term 'apprenticeship' has been banded about by politicians when it suits them, in reality offering an apprenticeship today is full of expensive deterrents and now we have a situation where only the well-off can afford a craft training post secondary school. 

A fellow furniture maker friend of mine and prominent in the field, today told me his experience of once considering offering an apprenticeship. Despite his large efficient workshop he was told his machines were not far enough apart and when he said the youngster wouldn't be using his machines but would start off loading timbers from outside he was told that the youngster would have to be issued with sun cream.

Silly me I forgot that today we have a generation of over-protective parents and some of them in Education who insist (if it isn't already law) that to play conkers you must wear safety glasses and a helmet.  

Not that long ago local schools were keen to send their sixth formers to me for short periods of work experience. One young lady assisted me making a documentary film about the late Alan Peters, the foremost British furniture craftsman of the late 20th Century and she later gained a job as a researcher with the BBC. 

'The Makers Maker 47 minute documentary part sponsored by the ex chairman of The London Stock Exchange (a client of Alan Peters) and The Worshipful Company of Furniture makers. 

Recently I tried engaging with schools but they never answer emails or are in tea break when you try to phone a key person.

So I made a really serious mistake of using a group email list for a sports activity I engage in every week as a means to request if any of the guys (some of whom have sixth form age children at local schools) could forward the above video link to the key person in that school or just put that person in touch with me. It used to be called networking.  

I was immediately and rather publicly reprimanded, courteously of course with 'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Of course I should have emailed them directly but who knows they might object and say I haven't invited you to use my email address privately! 

A subsequent email exchange with this person he told me he had close contacts in local education and it would be an 'abuse of his position' (data protection)  and advising me the proper way is to use social media!!!  Oh no, please don't start using the word abuse! How the world has changed. 

He then told me email was not the best way to discuss this but he could answer all my questions in person. And yet he chose to tick me off in a public email!

The saddening thing is when someone says they have 'the answers to all my questions' yet hasn't bothered to watch the video to begin to understand what the real question actually is - why are young people being deprived of the kind of practical experience that I can offer and that my video demonstrates is beneficial to their work prospects? !!  

My own generation, largely enjoying their leisure time must surely be aware these valuable skills will be lost. Maybe they don't care but I have always been committed to education and passing on the skills I was advantaged to learn. Who knows what jobs or skill demands there will be post-Brexit in a decade from now?  

When I taught my highly successful Intensive Design and Make in Wood courses in my small studio to adults a few years ago,  several of my students commented that actually what I was teaching were life skills, but clearly I have demonstrated inappropriate contemporary 'life skills' recently with my sports group email faux pas by failing to realise there is a very different outlook amongst the current dominant generation who are comfortable with political correctness and are quick to say -

'I don’t think we should be using this email group for anything other than sport info'. Yet, if I were to suggest 'Well I don't think we should be using a referendum to over-turn a vote that we lost'  I would be laughed out of the pub! 

But the reality and irony is that in politics often things get done in the corridors of power rather than in the committee rooms where strict agendas are kept to!

In looking for a young person to assist me for a few hours a week in return for imparting my varied skills, In recent years I have placed a free advert in Gumtree and get lots of response, including from older people, but this facility has been stopped and I am not an employer offering a job.

Schools and colleges inundated by emails don't bother to answer them so it seemed a commonsense approach to ask guys I play sport with one a week to do me a favour and link me to a key person at the school their kids were attending to send my video to. 

Aside from political correctness and the rules of a particular gang of guys, can we think for a moment from the perspective of many youngsters who are being deprived of the opportunity for engaging in creative practical work and which could lead on to following a rewarding career later on.

As it stands many of the state furniture making courses have been closed down and the vacuum filled by elite and very expensive schools. 

Is this a society of equal opportunity?