Alan Jones, traditional thatcher

 14 April 2015

Alan is a traditional thatcher and teacher. He won a Craft Skills Award in 2015, with judges celebrating, "his teaching and demonstrations all over the UK are an inspiration to many young people".

Alan was presented with a Craft Skills Award by Patricia Lovett, vice-chair of the Heritage Crafts Association.
Alan was presented with a Craft Skills Award by Patricia Lovett, vice-chair of the Heritage Crafts Association.

Nominations are now open for the Creative & Cultural Skills Awards 2016.

Originally a traditionally trained carpenter, Alan Jones teaches sustainable and traditional thatching. For more than three decades, he has practised and taught rural skills, honing the art of thatching and conservation carpentry.

“The work I am involved with is a practically extinct arm of the thatching industry, so I am happy to share my knowledge and findings with as wide an audience as possible.” 

Applying the craft skills of our ancestors

One of the many projects Alan works on is the reconstruction of an Iron Age village near his home in west Wales. This involves building and thatching roundhouses, a task he has plenty of experience in – so far he has built around 30 of them all over the UK.

Alan has a deep interest in the early technologies our ancestors used, which he fostered, “having talked and debated with archaeologists who are experienced with sites from all over the country”.

The knowledge that our ancestors held helped us evolve into the society we have today. 

Today he is very involved with crop growing, reed bed management and experimental archaeology with timber thatch and cob. This has led him to gain the skills to build more accurate reconstructions and teach others likewise.

"The knowledge that our ancestors held helped us evolve into the society we have today. We must not lose our traditional skills or our knowledge of how to nurture and acquire the appropriate materials needed to maintain our livelihoods and culture.

“I want to help people gain access to the correct materials for repair and rethatching, otherwise we eventually won’t have a home-grown ability and will be dependent on imported materials. This would entail losing revenue, losing the knowledge held in rural communities and would have the added cost of an awful carbon footprint."

Teaching the next generation

Teaching for Alan started 30 years ago when he worked for a charity involved with children with special needs. He taught rural studies, which he says, “can illuminate hidden strengths with children who can then be encouraged into a path better suited to their situation".

We must not lose our traditional skills or our knowledge of how to acquire the appropriate materials.

This started him on a course that has culminated with him teaching all over the UK for many organisations, most notably The Prince's Foundation for Building Community for which he is now the longest-serving tutor. The Foundation has adopted a teaching and apprentice network for 16-18 year olds, and Alan is one of the tutors involved. 

One of Alan's apprentices now teaches for the Prince's Foundation, and the Foundation provide Alan with young people on placements who, “travel with us around the UK as we unravel the mysteries of historical reconstruction”.

Alan also works closely with other groups that are committed to building bridges for young people to help them work in the traditional built environment.

He regularly puts on craft demonstrations and says: “I find people are interested in thatching, but are fascinated by my approach when I provide my own straw and reed.”

Changing attitudes to craft careers

Alan is passionate about changing the way that craft careers are perceived.

"I hope to get the message across that the creative and cultural industries are a worthwhile and satisfying pursuit. There has, for a long time, been a stigma that they are a second-best career move only taken on by people not academic enough to pursue a white-collar job.

"This has to change, and my role as a mentor quite often helps students overcome their worries. A role model that practices what they preach makes a lasting impression.”

The judging panel for the Craft Skills Award said: "Alan uses his connections in helping find placements for students who wish to follow a path into the creative industries, and his teaching and craft demonstrations all over the UK are an inspiration to many young people."

Nominations are now open for the Creative & Cultural Skills Awards 2016.


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