“Community Project in Yau Ma Tei” to Explore Inheritance of Craftmanship

Thanks to enhancement in technical skills over the years, traditional crafts produced by carpentry, carving, bamboo weaving, and sewing have became crucial items to make our our work and daily lives more convenient. While inheritance is vital to conserve old shops and revitalise traditional crafts, it is also necessary to establish an environment that allows people to engage with these crafts. Through community projects, we aim to engage participants from diverse backgrounds and local residents to promote the spirit and skills of makers. In the long run, we hope to raise awareness to community and empower everyone to contribute to their community.
Prepared from October 2022, the “Craftsmanship Community Project in Yau Ma Tei” was commenced in February 2023 with 9 participants joining the team. Under the organisation of MakerBay Foundation, they explored Yau Ma Tei and learned various maker skills to co-create a wooden cart for the community, with an objective to change the stereotype of feeling pressured when visiting old shops. They discussed the appearance, theme, elements, and functionalities of the wooden cart, and improve the design while exchanging ideas with shop owners, craftsmen, and other stakeholders.
Project Process

Harnessing the creativity of diverse participants

The participants came from diverse backgrounds, including recent graduates aspiring to pursue a career in carpentry, a high school teacher with an interest in old shops and traditional crafts, and Yau Ma Tei residents who wish to learn more about local old shops. To ensure that everyone can contribute their strengths and unleash the creativity, the project began with ice breaking sessions where each member shared their motivation of participation, expectations, what they hope to learn, and what aspects of the old shops they are interested in. Some expressed desires to establish connections with the community, while others mentioned that they were curiosity about the daily operations of old shops and the skills used in their work.
Through guided tours along Canton Road, Reclamation Street, and Shanghai Street in Yau Ma Tei, participants visited various types of handicraft stores and explored the unique community where the process of raw materials sourcing, production and sales, all available in one single shop. After interacting with the responsible and craftsmen of Kwok Kee Woodware Sculpture, Ming Sang Steel Bamboo Receptacle, Sze Cheung, Poh Wah Canvas, and Wing Lung Embroidery, we gained a deeper understanding of their daily operations and challenges. Additionally, these interactions also provided valuable insights and inspiration for the design of the wooden cart. 
Louis from Sze Cheung mentioned that the woodworking industry has declined, so he did not take apprentices anymore. Commencement of the redevelopment of Yau Ma Tei will mark the shop’s closure. Mr. Lui from Ming Sang Steel Bamboo Receptacle and the owner of Pui Wah Canvas shared that consumers could find cheaper products through online platforms like Taobao which has greatly impacted their businesses.

Experiential learning and Spreading the impact

After extensive discussions, we decided to create a boat-shaped wooden cart called “Craftsman Ship” (匠油號) with reference to the historical background of Yau Ma Tei. During our visit to Ming Sang Steel Bamboo Receptacle, Mr. Lui introduced his bamboo products and demonstrated how to make a bamboo steamer. Upon learning about the flexibility of bamboo, we decided to use bamboo branches for the bow of the boat. For other components, we used wooden boards, some of which were joined using dovetail. One side of the cart served as an extended table, and the cover was made of Hong Kong’s iconic red, white, and blue canvas.
"Craftsman Ship" mockup
To promote the rich culture and history of Yau Ma Tei, “Craftsman Ship” features a laser-cut map of Yau Ma Tei, indicating the locations of the old shops we visited and their respective handicraft categories. It also includes a photo flipbook that allows viewers to explore current and historical photos Yau Ma Tei and highlights from the community project. Furthermore, we designed a wishing board for people to write down their stories about Yau Ma Tei and reflection on the value of traditional craftsmanship. Finally, we brough “Craftsman Ship” to Tin Hau Temple and caught passeeby’s attention. Some engaged in conversations with us, tried out the photo flipbook, shared their thoughts and worte their wishes on the wishing board.
A resident is watching the photo flipbook and writing stories of Yau Ma Tei in the wishing board
Through this community project, participants not only deepened their understanding of old shops and various traditional crafts but also had the opportunity to explore woodworking, carving, bamboo weaving, sewing, and laser cutting. We overcame various challenges and succeed to bring “Craftsman Ship” to life within the limited time.

Challenges and Recommendations in Organising Community Projects

1) Understanding Community Needs and Establishing Connections
Organizing a community project requires a deep understanding of the community and connections with different shops. Although we gained a better understanding of Yau Ma Tei through field observations, shadowing the craftsmen, visiting old shops, and engaging with residents, it was still insufficient to plan the project in detail. We were honoured to have the support of Mr. Kung Wai-lok from Lok Tei. Mr. Kung grew up in Yau Me Tei and introduced us to various shops. Through collaboration, we expanded the possibilities for each other’s projects.
2) Adapting According to Stakeholders’ Needs
While conducting workshops near the shops would have been the most direct way to experience traditional craftsmanship, we realized there were concerns from the owners about the feasibility and timing. Therefore, we modified our plan to create a wooden cart that incorporates various elements of traditional crafts, so that participants could learn about old shops and traditional techniques while apply the skills to make a product for the community.
3) Engaging Participants throughout the Project
As participants had to invest a significant amount of time in the project, we took into account their reasons for joining, availability for attending all the activities, and familiarity with maker skills to build a team with diverse backgrounds and expertise, allowing everyone to complement each other’s strengths and learn from one another. Additionally, we added a Treasure Hunt in hardware shops based on participants’ interests, which provided opportunities to engage with different shops in Yau Ma Tei and learn about hand tools and components. To encourage active participation, the design of the wooden cart was entirely left to the participants, thus emphasising the value of co-creation.

The Origin and Future Planning of the "Craftsmanship Community Project in Yau Ma Tei"

How can we present the stories of Yau Ma Tei, a neighborhood on the brink of transformation due to urban redevelopment? How can we deepen public awareness of traditional craftsmanship and old shops? The “Craftsmanship Community Project in Yau Ma Tei” aims to bring participants to old shops, engage in conversations with the owners and craftsmen, and learn about the stories behind these establishments. Afterwards, we applied maker skills to create a wooden cart that showcases the history and traditional craftsmanship of Yau Ma Tei.
We will continue exploring the community with “Craftman Ship” and organise different activities to promote the traditional crafts and maker spirit of the old shops. For the next phase, we will focus on encouraging people to reflect on the value and impact of the old shops, with the hope that they will continue discovering stories of different old shops in their community.
With challenges such as the decline of manufacture industry, a lack of new workforce, and urban redevelopment, old shops closed their business one after another. When people read media reports about the stories of these old shops or hear about their impending closures, they may feel a sense of regret and rush to visit or capture their final moments. However, we should further reflect on the value of these old shops and their craftsmanship. We can all start by visiting old shops of the community, experiencing the spirit of craftsmanship, and embracing the history of these establishments.

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Ms. Angie Zhou

Education Specialist

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Angie Zhou is an Education Specialist at MIT App Inventor. She was the founder and CEO of Dreams Come True in Shenzhen, where she developed online coding courses for kids. She also has previous curriculum development, teaching and staff training experience at First Code Academy in Hong Kong.