The QEST organisation is an art and craft educational trust created to sustain traditional British craftsmanship. QEST, known formally as the Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust, supports the training and education of talented and aspiring craftspeople through traditional college courses, vocational training, apprenticeships and one-to-one training with a master craftsperson. In doing so, QEST helps to support Britain’s cultural heritage and sustain vital skills in traditional and contemporary crafts.
QEST was founded by the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1990 to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Association and the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Over the years, QEST has awarded over £5.3million to 700 individuals working across the UK in 130 different craft disciplines.
QEST distributes funds to craftspeople who are in the process of inheriting the craft from another, fully experienced craftsperson. Also known as the scholar (or apprentice) and the trainer.
QEST scholarships are for individuals more established in the field, looking to complete additional training and excel in their craft. Grants given by the trust aim to help those who already have a significant degree of skill in their chosen craft to develop those skills to a very high level. Grants range from £2,000 to £15,000, and are often given to cover tuition fees and living costs during an individual's training.
QEST apprenticeships are for individuals wishing to begin their career in a practical art, to enter into on-the-job-learning with a master craftsperson. These collaborative grants are awarded to both parties, to fund the tuition and employment of an apprentice during the duration of their three-year apprenticeship. Grants range from £6,000 to £18,000 and are often given to fund material costs and supplement the individual's wage.
Sarah Ready, first generation in her family to fish as well as inherit the craft of willow crab pot making, is a QEST scholar / apprentice. Dave French, fifth generation withy crab pot maker of 40+ years, is Sarah's trainer / QEST master. The pair work alongside one another with determined stride in their step to revive the dying craft of willow crab pot making, which is on the red list of critically endangered crafts on the heritage crafts 2023 website.
On the 28th of April, an event was held in London’s great Guildhall. An annual luncheon organised by the Royal Warrant holder association, where only a few carefully selected QEST apprentices are invited to attend. Sarah joined 800 other craftspeople within the QEST family and is one of the top 5 people that have been selected in moving forward.
Sarah Ready made her journey to London by train from Brixham, with nothing but her handbag and two giant crab pots. It was safe to say that this attracted quite a lot of attention and made the journey far from easy, but retrospectively humorous. It’s safe to say that these two, giant withy pots, ambiguous to the eyes of London’s central, attracted quite a lot of attention and a few funny looks.
They were far too big to get through the ticket barriers, especially two at a time and so a few on duty staff members leant her a helping hand while doing so. She got on the tube around 8:30 AM, which is commute time and as Sarah quickly learned, a time far too busy to be loping two giant crab pots around.
She had to change over at Bank, ‘course, bank is where all the bankers get on and off’, and Sarah felt just a little out of place surrounded by all these men with briefcases and fancy suits. As the tube arrived and everyone prepared to rush onboard, Sarah grabbed both of her pots and spun around, almost knocking over a dozen suited men! ‘I almost skittled the lot of them!’
Despite almost knocking down a group of bankers like a set of bowling pins, taking the tube proved itself to be a worthwhile experience. Sarah found that the giant crab pots that occupied two seats either side of her sparked quite a lot of attention. Particularly from young locals that had never seen anything like it because of their sheltered city upbringing. Sarah was showered in interest and questions regarding what they were, how they worked, how they were made, why she brought her work to London. She was very eager to talk about the pots and felt extremely optimistic because of the interest they aroused. She also met a fisherman on the train, originally from Weymouth, who was travelling with his family. He saw the crab pots and instantly recognised what they were. He left his wife and children to spend the rest of the trip talking away to Sarah about their lifetime of fishing!
The QEST event in itself was a huge opportunity to widen the range of interest and knowledge on the craft. Both Dave French and Sarah commonly use local communities to their advantage when shedding light on the dying craft. This is because their roots come from close communities and they know the importance in locality. However, when it comes to broadening the knowledge of this craft in order for it to survive, large economical cities such as London are also extremely beneficial.
Before Sarah had even arrived at the event, this desired acknowledgement was already achieved because of public transport. ‘We are forever grateful for the interest shared on that short tube journey because it really does brighten our day with hope for the future of this craft’.
At the event, there were almost 800 attendees, and 400 of those people were royal warrant holders. Sarah is the first apprentice to bring willow crab pot making to the QEST organisation, and like the train ride there, she received a lot of interest.
At the event, Sarah, like every other scholar that was invited to attend, had a designated presentation table where she set up the two crab pots: one being made by Dave French, and the other being made by herself. This was so the Royal Warrant Holders to compare and acknowledge Sarah’s improvements in learning the craft.
‘Now that we’ve started this journey with QEST, it’s ongoing.’ Not only does QEST offer great support to even the smallest of crafts, but there’s a real sense of community within it. Some QEST scholars have been on this journey since the early nineties and are still part of what they call the ‘QEST family’. This means that for any future events, you’re all automatically included.
To be a participant in this movement and included in this family, Sarah says, ‘it’s all really exciting!’ and she’s eager for the next steps moving forward. There are a lot more upcoming events that Sarah will be attending in order to spread awareness about the dying craft she is so devoted to reviving. London is a great city when it comes to business and expanding projects and such. Not only is it a completely different audience that attends our local displays, but it’s a great way to get the word out about this beautiful craft.
‘It gives us a much higher platform’. Both Sarah and Dave are thorough when stating that local displays are at the heart of their journey when broadening the knowledge of willow pot making. Growing up in small fishing towns, they both have first hand experience in the importance of keeping things local. However, expansive displays in cities such as London are equally as important because they hold huge opportunities and have the ability to take us to a national level and show it to a wider audience.
When asked what the next steps are, Sarah simply said, ‘To wait and see how it will evolve.’ Already, Dave and Sarah have made so much progress in reviving this craft and so many opportunities have been thrown their way. Opportunities that they could never have foreseen, and as a result of, they honestly don’t know what could be around the corner, but they are certainly eager to find out. But rest assured, this pair won't be sitting restless for very long, they are constantly on the move, working towards the future of this craft. From this perspective, it certainly looks like there is a future for willow pot making.