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Farnham: a World Craft City

Close up of female working with clay

Farnham is the first town in England and only the third region in Europe to be given ‘World Craft City’ status. Other European holders of the designation include the Outer Hebrides for Harris tweed and the Danish island of Bornholm, famous for its glass production and pottery using locally worked clay.

The World Crafts Council welcomes Farnham to the network of world craft cities which is a contribution to the UNESCO Creative Cities programme. Only 36 other regions and cities across the globe have been awarded Craft City status.

“This is a culmination of a huge amount of work from people across the town over a long period of time to champion Farnham as a town rooted in the crafts.  I think there is an opportunity here to shape and celebrate the town’s future.” Gavin Stride, Director, Farnham Maltings

Known for its Georgian streets, historic buildings and craft heritage, with easy access to the rural North Downs Way, Farnham is a historic market town nestled in the rolling Surrey Hills with a population of 40,000.

Farnham’s application to the World Crafts Council was shortlisted in February this year and a jury including Marion Poortvliet (Crafts Council Nederland) and Rosy Greenlees (Chair World Crafts Council) paid an on-site visit to the town. The jury had a full itinerary visiting a unique collection of craft organisations and huge variety of makers in the town.

Councillor Pat Evans, Mayor of Farnham says: “Farnham has a powerful reputation for craft education as well as nurturing and promoting the careers of some very talented makers. Our fantastic arts and crafts venues have enabled craft to be embedded into our everyday life. I am thrilled that Farnham has been awarded World Craft City status and for the opportunities this presents for both the visitor economy and the next generation of makers.”

Farnham can trace its roots in craft back to the Bronze Age and during the visit the jurors heard about the clay traditions; the wool heritage; wheel-wrights and the National Craft Collection.

The town’s creative landscape includes the Farnham Maltings, with a thriving craft festivals programme, The University of Creative Arts, with a school of craft; the International Textiles Research Centre run by Professor Lesley Millar MBE; the internationally renowned Crafts Study Centre, celebrating its 50th year, run by Professor Simon Olding; The New Ashgate Gallery, one of the leading contemporary arts galleries in the south east of England; Farnham Pottery, founded by Absalom Harris in 1873, which has the oldest wood fired kiln in Europe; and a wide range of community-led activities that take place throughout the year.

The final decision was made by a majority vote from the WCC Board using the recommendation from the Panel that visited Farnham.

The judges commentated on the “strong sense of community in Farnham” Their perception was of “a town full of makers and making at all levels, across all craft forms and in a huge range of spaces (many hidden from public view).”

The craft community demonstrated that “although the town is informed by its past and a respect for its traditions, it is very much looking towards the future and embracing new technologies and ways of working.”

Rosy Greenlees, President of the World Crafts Council said: “I am absolutely delighted that Farnham was successful in its bid to secure World Crafts Council Craft City status.  The craft city network is 50 strong and is clear evidence of how making skills are being used across the globe to sustain small businesses and communities and contribute to tourism and a sense of place.  The fascinating heritage of craft in Farnham is matched by the superb quality of its contemporary activity from the Crafts Study Centre at UCA to the craft fairs at the Farnham Maltings. I know that the town will make good use of the status both building on its existing work and reaching out to this international network.”

Farnham World Craft City is designated by the World Craft Council and delivered by Farnham Maltings and Farnham Town Council with support from an advisory group of craft makers, institutions and local authority partners including Waverley Borough Council.

Councillor John Ward, Leader of Waverley Borough Council said: “As Farnham evolves, the historic value of craft will become one of the key elements of the local economy. Waverley Borough Council will be working closely with Farnham Town Council and Surrey County Council to strengthen Farnham’s role as a place of creativity and innovation.”

Find out more about Farnham Craft Town.

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