Searching for the next generation of butchers

Sauls of Spratton.
Sauls of Spratton.
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OUR high street butchers are under pressure, not just because of competition from the supermarkets but because it seems the younger generation are too squeamish about the work.

National Butcher’s Week ends today and, according to the organisers, two thirds of the UK’s butchers could face closure in the coming years unless the next generation of butchers’ apprentices are found quickly, but it seems young people are not keen.

Martyn Boshell, director at Saul’s Butchers of Brixworth Road, Spratton said: “The sad thing is I came here the week before my 18th birthday and 36 years on I’m still here, but that’s very rare now. The hours are long and people don’t want to do the hours. The rewards are good if you want them, but it’s a dying art.

“Whether they will want to do this type of work in future I don’t know and that’s a sad thing. Unless they come from within a family, beyond that I can’t really see them queuing up to do it and you can’t get away from what you are dealing with and people do tend to be a little bit squeamish.”

Butcher’s Week organisers, Meat Trades Journal, surveyed butchers all over the country and found that only one in three of them has a “natural successor” such as a son or daughter or another person already working in the business.

Only two in five butchers has an apprentice and the biggest reason given for that was sheer lack of candidates. Despite rising youth unemployment and the opportunities in the butchery trade to learn a skill and potentially go on to run their own business, those who answered the survey felt potential young apprentices preferred to choose jobs which they felt were easier.

The lack of young talent in the business means that as the older generation leave the trade through retirement there are fewer and fewer skilled people in the business.

Mark Price has just started the butchery business at the age of 32. His father-in-law is Chris Saul, of Saul’s of Spratton, and he left a career in the car trade to join the family business looking after the outside catering side.

He believes to truly learn the craft you need to start young and although he is learning the skills he cannot hope to butcher a pig into cuts of meat and sausages at anything like the speed of a fully trained and experienced butcher.

He said: “It’s such a skilled job. What a butcher would need is an apprentice at a young age, it’s an extremely tough skill to do and speed is of the essence. The quicker you are the better the business. I will never be a butcher, I have started too late, it would take another eight years for me to get the skills.

“To get the people they would need to attract they want to attract school leavers as apprentices, but it’s that age old thing, people are a bit squeamish, people see a pig’s head and say ‘I don’t want to do that.’”