RIP Bucks?


Anthony Bailey

Monday, January 27, 2014

Following the "internal announcement" that Bucks New University, High Wycombe, will be ceasing a number of Foundation - craft, furniture, restoration and conservation courses in two years time, there has understandably been shock, stunned disbelief and a sense of outrage among both students and tutors at the university. A campaign is already underway to try and reverse this ill-thought out decision by the university authorities. My own daughter, Amber, is studying at "Bucks" and in the last, very critical year of a BA degree both for her and all her fellow students, they really did not need to have this alarming situation to deal with.

Does the closure of these courses while retaining the higher level MA courses matter? The answer has to be "yes" because it is then far easier to shut these courses later on and there will, in any case, be no post graduate BAs to join the MA courses. Worse than that, the extensive workshop facilities at Bucks will no longer be needed and indeed in the Strategic Plan published in PDF form on the university website buried in pages 20-21, it is clear these older parts of the campus are due to be "repurposed" to relieve space constraints elsewhere.

So, cost and space are the underlying reasons for wanton destruction of a key element of craft academic teaching in the United Kingdom. Leaving aside High Wycombe"s rich heritage in textiles and furniture making and as the seat of furniture manufacture in this country when at its peak there were over 1000 furniture factories both large and small in the areas, consider the damage to our UK skills base. Our practical craft skills" teaching has been decimated over the years so that we are now trying to re-establish some of these lost abilities among our young population. We produce some of the best designers in the world - Jonathan Ives, Apple Chief Designer - James Dyson, to name just two, even the legendary Barnes-Wallis of "bouncing bomb" fame in World War II will have played his part in a planned future "spaceplane" project.

Then there is our obsession with history and preserving the past after the wanton vandalism of the 1960s - since then we have needed all the skills and science that conservation can bring to preserving both old and ancient artefacts. Is Bucks New University seriously not a vital, and indeed one of the few remaining academic institutions in this country that should be producing the designers and conservators of the future? Is it not in fact a form of academic vandalism of a critical part of our knowledge and concern for the past and for the future? Look for instance at the Le Ecole de Boulle in Paris with its vibrant international and multi-disciplinary approach to practical skills and contrast that with the paucity of provision in our own country. Private teaching establishments cannot be expected to "pick up the pieces" nor do they have the depth of academic provision or scientific resources that a university can provide. Those responsible for this crass and ill-thought out decision that fails to consider more strategic and creative solutions to this institution"s problems should hang their heads in shame.

Thankfully the current crop of students will be able complete their courses but after that, nothing... effectively the end of craft teaching at High Wycombe after more than 120 years.

Anthony Bailey

Images, from top to bottom:

1. The High Street with some of its Georgian buildings extant, such as the Guildhall, shown on the left. Over the past few years, I seem to have got to know High Wycombe and Bucks New University rather well, as the result of several visits for sister magazine Furniture & Cabinetmaking, and also because my youngest daughter is now studying at the University. So it seemed like a good place to start this series (PHOTOGRAPH BY GMC/ANTHONY BAILEY)

2. The fabulous ‘Arch of Chairs’ built between the Guildhall and the shops opposite for the 1880 visit of the Prince of Wales. Several more arches have been built since then to commemorate important occasions, the last being the Millennium (PHOTOGRAPH MANAGED COPYRIGHT: WYCOMBE MUSEUM)

3. The cramped interior of the copiously filled Chair Store. The upper level has some of the more unusual examples displayed

4. If you would like to support furniture"s future, join the Facebook page

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