Volume 52 - Autumn 2021


After The Queen's Bindery Apprenticeship Scheme

Training in Craft Bookbinding by Rob Shepherd

It is now over six years since we gathered in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen at Windsor Castle to celebrate the inauguration of the Queen's Bindery Apprenticeship Scheme (QBAS). Funded principally by the Royal Collection Trust along with the generous backing of the Stationers' Foundation and six other organisations, the scheme was a bold and exciting initiative to re-establish training in the craft bookbinding sector.

The suspension of the scheme due to the COVID-19 pandemic was a setback, but it should not be allowed to cast a shadow over the progress and achievements made in the last six years. It was after all a pilot scheme and managed to produce seven excellent apprentices, two of whom are now working at the Royal Bindery. Out of the original seven apprentices, five are working professionally in the sector.

Producing seven apprentices is an achievement but QBAS will ultimately be judged on its legacy. Two significant achievements are the creation of the Level 3 City & Guilds Diploma and the formation of two Apprenticeship Standards, the 'Bookbinder' and the 'Journeyman Bookbinder'.

City & Guilds

Work on revising the City & Guilds qualifications in Craft Bookbinding had started some years earlier with the creation of certificates in Levels 1 & 2 Craft Bookbinding which were designed to teach a beginner the basic skills and methods of craft bookbinding.

The development of a Level 3 qualification took the training to a professional level. The C&G Level 3 Diploma in 3D crafts was adapted to fulfil the requirements of craft bookbinding and is designed to prepare a candidate for work in a professional or commercial environment. Developed with the help of some of the leading practitioners in the field, the qualification consists of a wide-ranging list of assignments that reflect the complexity of the craft at the highest level (note 1).

In addition to the practical assignments, and in line with the Apprenticeship Standards, the Diploma also assesses a candidate's ability to work efficiently in a team or workshop environment, with an understanding of costing and record-keeping.

Completing all three City & Guilds Levels gives an excellent grounding for anyone seeking to follow a career in bookbinding and associated areas such as book conservation and restoration. Its wide-ranging curriculum is suitable for someone planning to set up their own business or join an institutional or commercial environment. There is no comparative qualification anywhere in the world and after just three years we have our first Level 3 student in Australia with assessments taking place entirely online.

We owe a special thanks to Liveryman Phil Ellaway and City & Guilds for supporting us to develop these qualifications in conjunction with our Bound by Veterans scheme in Wiltshire.

Apprenticeship Standards

Originally, the application in 2016 by the Royal Bindery to the Department of Education, now the Institute for Apprenticeships (IFA), to create Bookbinding Standards was in response to a requirement under the newly published Enterprise Act, which in effect was outlawing the use of the word 'apprenticeship' if not part of an officially recognised Standard (note 2).

In one sense the Bookbinder and Journeyman Standards are closely linked to the City & Guilds curriculum, in that they are both a measure of skills, but the Standards go further in teaching the candidate how to be a good employee and eventually a good manager and employer.

All Apprenticeship Standards are divided into three categories; Knowledge, Skills and Behaviours (KSBs) and the clue to their real value is in the word 'Behaviours'. Employers know it is not enough just to have a talented employee; staff also must know how to behave in the workplace and interact with their colleagues as part of a team.

Apprentice Standards are rooted in the working environment. The fact that bookbinding Standards are now listed on the IFA website alongside Standards for Clinical Psychology, Midwifery and the Police Force (and many equally serious occupations) is recognition that the craft has a place, albeit a very small one, in the real world.

Creating the Bookbinder and Journeyman Standards has been a slow process and although both Standards have gone through the lengthy approval process and are published on the IFA website, there are still some significant hurdles to overcome before they are passed for delivery (note 3). The main issue is finding Training Providers and End Point Assessment Organisations willing to take on a niche Standard like bookbinding. The UK training industry is a commercial operation and the small numbers of potential apprentices make it financially unviable for many of these organisations, a problem faced by a number of small craft industries, such as the Clock Makers who also are trying to get their Standards ready for delivery (note 4).

With the help of willing supporters in the training sector these issues can eventually be overcome but the biggest challenge for the craft bookbinding sector will be finding employers, including the larger levy-paying institutions, who are willing to take on apprentices and use the funding available through the Apprenticeship scheme for one-day-a-week external training.

Sometimes, doors close and others open. Back in May I met William Makower (Upper Bailiff of the Weavers) whose parents run Bishopsland, a one-year residential silversmithing and jewellery course which covers both handcraft and business skills for future craftsmen. (note 5)

William has been talking to me and others about possibly adding bookbinding to the offer and a feasibility study has been commissioned for later this year. Partly funded by the Clothworkers it may provide a new route to train future bookbinders.

QBAS started a process that with the support and participation of everyone who cares about the future of this heritage craft, will find new ways to support training opportunities at the highest level.


1. www.bookbinding.co.uk/City and Guilds
2. Enterprise Act 2016. Part 4 Section 25 'Only statutory apprenticeships to be described as apprenticeships'
3. www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship standards
4. www.instituteforapprenticeships.org/apprenticeship-standards/clock-maker-v1-0
5. www.Bishopsland.org.uk


Rob Shepherd - I graduated with a degree in Fine Art and Printing in 1973 and afterwards took up bookbinding as an evening class student at Camberwell College of Art in London. I didn't choose bookbinding as a career path; I simply saw it as a way of learning how to repair my own books but I soon got hooked. After a short spell teaching in a school, I headed for the altogether calmer world of restoring antiquarian books.

I started my own workshop in 1976, and over the next thirteen years the business grew to the stage where in 1988 we incorporated the company and moved into an old shop premises in the Victoria district of London. In time we took over the premises next door and the business continued to grow steadily. Then in 1998 we had the chance of buying the old bookbinding firms of Sangorski & Sutcliffe (established in 1901) and Zaehnsdorf (established in 1843).

I had long admired the work of the great trade binders, particularly those 'West End' firms who were capable of producing such large quantities of beautifully bound books. Taking over two of the most famous names in London bookbinding was (and still is), an enormous privilege. We have now celebrated 27 years running a bookbinding business in London.

Everyone at Shepherds is passionate about driving up our own standards of craftsmanship and most importantly creating opportunities for others to learn bookbinding and conservation skills. We are facing a serious skill shortage in this area, so we have now set up our own training facility where we offer City & Guilds qualifications in bookbinding.

In addition to my duties as Managing Director of a growing company I am also an active member of the Stationers Livery Company and Treasurer of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.


Skin Deep - Volume 52 - Autumn 2021

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