Original post : 17 Jan 2013

British Craftsmanship

While I am looking forward to 2013 my crystal ball is a little foggy and I don’t have any idea what it holds for us in the craft industry.  But  I did hear some heart-warming news on the BBC Radio 4’sToday programme. Jaguar cars  is creating 800 more jobs and other, higher end manufacturers in this sector are also doing well.  The inference was that our workforce can offer the skills and quality that brands are looking for.  It reminded me of the surge of pride I felt during the Olympic opening ceremony and its focus on the industrial revolution and British manufacturing. 

I studied Textiles at University in Manchester when the textile industry was a significant employer in the UK.  My first job was for Courtaulds which employed nearly 10%  of that sector at a time when ‘Made in Britain’ was the cornerstone of Marks and Spencer’s business strategy.  During my time the textile industry was decimated as companies moved more and more of their production off shore to the Far East, South America and, more recently Eastern Europe.  It made sense economically and the textile industry was not alone in this trend.  But it seems we now have a new ‘on shore’ trend.   Our reputation for craftsmanship, superior design and quality are once again something to shout about.

Works Management magazine  highlighted the start of this trend in 2011 as the number of people employed in manufacturing began to rise.

‘The number, albeit modest, underpins much other official and anecdotal evidence of the revival in fortunes of an industry all but abandoned as a lost cause a decade ago and should further boost confidence in a sector still lacking investment’

According to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers UK Manufacturing in 2012 manufacturing plays a vital role generating over 11% of the UK’s total wealth, 60% of exports three times more than financial services and all other knowledge intensive services combined, employing 2.6 million jobs just under 10% of the UK workforce.

In August 2012 the Telegraph ran a story that asserted that 40% of UK companies are bringing production back on shore.  Take the case of Laxton’s. At the end of last century the company, well known for its yarns, closed its UK manufacturing, unable to compete with cheaper imports. The company became an importer of yarns and sold its spinning machines to manufacturers all over Europe. Now they are once again spinning in Yorkshire as part of a growing number of companies that find there are so many benefits to manufacturing in the UK. They produce high end, bespoke yarns that are stocked in shops such as John Lewis.  The company and reawakened the skills and expertise they have and the flexibility of having your manufacture geographically close to you is well worth the money.

As consumers become more aware of ‘Made in Britain’ it should benefit the heritage craft sector.  After all we are manufacturing even if it is only on a small scale.  We have the skill, standards of excellence and ingenuity of our bigger cousins.

I think this is something worth celebrating in 2013


Whilst it is encouraging to read that Britain can expect almost half of British companies to bring production back on shore, it would be beneficial to have the creative abilities, skills set and level of output recognised within the British workforce not only by stature but by their financial remuneration. So many independent designer-makers and craftspeople earn disproportionate amounts of money for the time and effort put into their wares. I hope that we are not too late to benefit from the zeitgeist of pride in all things British that the success of the Olympics helped create. Perhaps some government assistance in reworking the prosaic attitudes of cogs within the machine being of a lesser value than management it may encourage pride of place in all areas of British creativity, both in this generation, and the training of the next?
Comment by Marianne Vincent - 18 Jan 2013 17:35
I am 70 years old and a Yorkshire girl, born in York, school in Harrogate but brought up on my stepfather's farm in the Dales. To subsidize our income in the bleak late 40's and early fifties we had a Craft cottage industry on the farm knitting, crochet rag rugs, beading, quilting. The children were highly involved on a voluntary basis, for pocket money. We would travel to Leeds in the old banger on a Friday afternoon and collect bi bags of fabric scraps from the factories and to the west Yorkshire mills of Huddersfield and Halifax for wool. We would sell our goods at Thirsk and Settle Markets, all labelled with Made in England ( not Britain then, we never heard the word) . Marks and Spencer' demise came about for dropping that label. When times were tough, instead of supporting the British industry they bought fabrics from China etc and had them made up in the third world but charged the same price. Many of these goods were so shoddy that Marks had to drop it's replacement guarantee and it's excellent service and so caused it's own decline. It was lucky to survive . The British reputation of quality has survived and those firm that supported that reputation are beginning to revive. Marks used to buy cottage industrY goods and should again
Comment by Sue Andrews - 18 Jan 2013 10:49
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