Introducing Kickstart apprentices to traditional crafts

The Fathom Trust

This is the first time I can remember feeling relaxed in years

Liv Kickstart apprentice
Our first whittling group from Cardiff & Vale at Penpont in the Brecon Beacons

In September, we started working with Cardiff & Vale University Health Board. They have created six-month work experience placements for two hundred 16-24yr olds through the Government sponsored Kickstart scheme.  These young people have all been on Universal Credit and referred through their Job Centre.

Our aim is to introduce all two-hundred young people to a traditional craft in order to improve their self-awareness, increase their social connections, and develop a healthy mindset that will serve them well in the workplace and beyond. We have found already that the importance of being calm, effective, and purposeful when using a knife to whittle wood, is directly applicable to the workplace.

Learning to use the shave-horse

Whittling is also an excellent way of teaching concentration.  Learning to focus is an objective which seems to have particular salience for these young people. The corollary of doing this well, is the transformative experience of achieving something functional and often beautiful with your own hands. It is always interesting to hear whether people intend to give their crafts away as gifts or to keep them for themselves!

A fear of failure has also emerged as a common experience in this groups. Whittling has taught them that failure is an integral part of learning and that without it, very little can be achieved. The very first task that the group work on is taking shavings from a piece of wood and gradually turning it into a ‘nothing stick’. By the end of the session, there is nothing left of their ‘nothing sticks’. To spend time practising the same physical action without any consequence and without any sense of success or failure, has created moment of genuine self-reflection and self-awareness in the groups.

I've been the victim of many an 'away day' but this was different. It was amazing how having the focus of the craft helped us all to relax and then to bond as a group. It challenged us all in different ways but it felt safe and fun and I also learned a lot. I would love to bring more groups to come and do this again, thank you.

Alun Head of Welsh Language, Cardiff & Vale UHB
Coppicing hazel
Cutting 'nothing sticks' using the Japanese hand-saw
Learning different knife grips
Fashioning a butter-spreader on the shave-horse
Working on our 'nothing sticks'!
Carding Cambrian wool
Making felt mats
The group with their felt mats read to take away
Bonding over lunch with apples, dahlias, and other ingredients from the Penpont walled garden