Craftswoman tells of MBE surprise in email from Cabinet Office

Hilary Burns in her willow storage barn

Hilary Burns in her willow storage barn - Credit: Hilary Burns

A Paignton woman has told how of her surprise at learning she had been awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours.

Hilary Burns, a basketmaker, teacher, writer and researcher, and advocate for the craft for many years, was nominated by the Heritage Crafts Association for an MBE - but did not know until she received an email from the Cabinet Office.

Hilary said: "It is such an honour, and I am really thrilled to have received this award and accompanying recognition for the craft.

"Basketmaking is not often in the limelight. However, in recent years the value of keeping hand-skills alive has been re-evaluated.

"There has been a huge renewal of interest in making and creativity, and the benefits to our health that come from these activities are being realised.

"The Heritage Craft Association has been instrumental in bringing these into the public domain. Its mission is to support and promote crafts as a fundamental part of our living heritage.

Hilary Burns with a bust of Shakespeare made in willow, for a sonnet-reading event at the British Museum

Hilary Burns with a bust of Shakespeare made in willow, for a sonnet-reading event at the British Museum - Credit: Hilary Burns

"To this end It has produced the 'red list of endangered crafts' in order to highlight just what we may lose and do something about it.

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"It supports makers in many and varied ways and is pressing for the return of crafts to the school curriculum.

"I moved to Torbay from London 35 years ago, with my husband who is originally from Devon. Devon offered an opportunity for a different kind of lifestyle.

"Having worked in textiles, I had completed a part-time City and Guilds course and begun to make baskets as a hobby.

"I found it so interesting that eventually it became my main occupation.

"To secure a supply of materials, I planted a willow bed at Dartington and continue to harvest the crop every year once the leaves have fallen.

"After grading, bundling and drying it provides enough material to take me through the year.

"With sustainability and provenance becoming more important,, I see this as the way forward, keeping it local while taking commissions from far and wide."