In the hot seat

Sarah Thane, chair of Suf­folk Craft So­ci­ety on how the county has stolen her heart

EADT Suffolk - - Inside -

FIRST a con­fes­sion: I have known Sarah Thane since her early days as Chair of the Suf­folk Craft So­ci­ety. In De­cem­ber 2013, we drove to Lon­don to­gether to set up a stall in the Burling­ton Ar­cade. Ac­tu­ally, Sarah drove, in her Ford C-Max, packed with del­i­cate ce­ram­ics, prints and glass­works. It was pour­ing with rain and the traf­fic was ter­ri­ble, but as we passed the time chat­ting, I re­alised what an ex­tra­or­di­nary wo­man she is.

‘We loved Lon­don for the gal­leries and con­cert hall, but we didn’t know our neigh­bours’

The thing about Sarah is that she is so hand­son and funny and warm and, well, nor­mal, that you for­get she helped set up Of­com, was a Com­mis­sioner for the Na­tional Lot­tery, was at the front­line of Thatcher’s ‘sealed auc­tions’ for TV fran­chises, at the birth of In­de­pen­dent ra­dio in the 70s and 80s – and she was hon­oured by the Queen. Oh, and she’s also a mag­is­trate.

I meet Sarah in her home in ru­ral Suf­folk, a charm­ing thatched cottage at the end of a sin­gle-track lane. It is full of art – ab­stract paint­ings on the wall in a tra­di­tional kitchen. This is not a sec­ond home, but a proper home. Sarah and her hus­band, Peter Wen­ban, moved here from glam­orous Lit­tle Venice in 2003, af­ter liv­ing in Lon­don for 16 years. I asked what had brought about such a big move?

“One of the rea­sons was that I wanted to re­dis­cover a sense of com­mu­nity,” she says. “We loved Lon­don for the gal­leries and con­cert hall, but we didn’t know our neigh­bours.” They both knew Suf­folk, and felt it could ful­fil their need for both com­mu­nity and cul­ture. Sarah threw her­self right in, sign­ing up for ev­ery­thing she cared about and giv­ing each her full at­ten­tion. She and Peter are pa­trons of Bury’s The­atre Royal, reg­u­lar at­ten­dees at Snape Malt­ings and love their lo­cal pub in Cot­ton, The Trowel and Ham­mer.

The house didn’t need too much work, al­though it did need to ex­tend the over-cosy liv­ing room so they could fit in all their friends, fam­ily – they have 11 grand­chil­dren – and of, course, the art. It’s now a large bright, beamed room filled with comfy so­fas that over­looks the gar­den. Sarah shows me some of the art she has col­lected, and I see how her pas­sion for qual­ity con­trol would trans­late to the Suf­folk Craft So­ci­ety’s ethos. They vig­or­ously vet ev­ery artist and craftsper­son be­fore they join

their hal­lowed mem­bers’ list. “The con­stant chal­lenge is try­ing to ed­u­cate peo­ple that the craft we pro­duce is not hobby craft,” she says. “Our mak­ers are al­most all grad­u­ates, or have been taught their dis­ci­pline. They are sea­soned craft­mak­ers. Many of our mak­ers use an­cient skills, of­ten very much rooted in the lo­cal land­scape. I am con­stantly learn­ing from them.” Sarah be­gan life in Birm­ing­ham city, a very dif­fer­ent world to the one she now lives in. Her father was a sales­man for the steel in­dus­try, but as he rose in the ranks, the fam­ily moved up in life too, from Birm­ing­ham city to Sut­ton Cold­field and then Ha­gley.

“Both Mum and Dad were from poor back­grounds with large fam­i­lies, but I never felt any pres­sure to achieve,” she says. “When I did, it was con­sid­ered a bonus. We were quite a sporty house­hold, so I had a com­pet­i­tive streak and a de­sire to do the best I could. My dad once said to me and my brother: ‘I don’t care if you’re a dust­man – just be the best dust­man.’” When of­fered places at univer­sity, how­ever, Sarah turned them down as her father sud­denly be­came se­ri­ously ill. She went to nearby Birm­ing­ham Poly, and stud­ied com­mu­ni­ca­tions. Place­ments at the Birm­ing­ham Post and ATV, then Lew Grade’s com­pany, gave her a taste for broad­cast­ing and press. Trag­i­cally, her father died when she was mid­way through her diploma. She stayed in the Mid­lands to be with her mum, which turned out to be a wise move. Af­ter work­ing for Hori­zon hol­i­days, she landed a job at the In­de­pen­dent Broad­cast­ing Author­ity’s Mid­lands branch, beom­ing the lo­cal ra­dio of­fi­cer, ad­ver­tis­ing and ap­point­ing fran­chises to new sta­tions in the feed­ing frenzy once the

Suf­folk Craft So­ci­ety’s an­nual sum­mer show cel­e­brates home­grown tal­ent and demon­strates that high qual­ity craft is also an art form. Photo: Den­nis Hales

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