I'm a big fan of the Radical Tea Towel Company, so I was delighted when I was invited -for free- to download their calendar of dates into my diary. It tells me all sorts of things about what's happened in the past - and not necessarily what you come across first in the history books. As I write, it's William Morris's birthday. And that's reminded me that there's plenty to learn from Morris, perhaps now more than ever.
Many people will know Morris through his intricate and beautiful wallpaper designs, shown here in an article by the V&A. A founding member of the Arts & Crafts movement, Morris believed in beautiful, well-made objects that could be used in everyday life. Turning away from the what they saw as dehumanised industrial factories, Arts & Crafts followers instead favoured production that focused on the connection between materials, maker and user. For them, this gave the products they made not only a clear purpose, but much greater integrity.
That's all very well, but what has that got to do with today, the first full day of the UK 'coronavirus lockdown'? I'm definitely not an expert, but this shift towards small-scale production and away from large-scale factories, making objects that are both beautiful and useful, is one that we could learn from if we use this pause in global transactions to reset our priorities. Communities are pulling together. They're supporting local small and micro-businesses. And they're - maybe- starting to question the systems that have bound us all up for the last few hundred years.
For Morris, his beliefs weren't only expressed through is design. He was also a noted reformist, radical thinker, and writer, with many on the left side of politics claiming him as their own. His News from Nowhere tells the story of William Guest's travels as he wakes up in an England 100 years in the future. No longer the 1890s London full of inequalities, this future world is one where money has been abolished, craft is valued, and people work together to meet collective needs.
Of course - and as Guest comes to understand - this utopia will take work to achieve. But perhaps these difficult - dare I say it, unprecedented - times give us the perfect opportunity to start that work. Together - and one step at a time. And if you're looking for some reading material over the next few weeks and months that takes you away from the current situation, I can heartily recommend taking a trip up the river with William Guest, a la Morris! Check out Hive Books for your copy!