“Are you…..local?” That infamous phrase from the League of Gentleman becomes something a little different and whole lot more important when applied to goods and services. Deep down, I’m sure most of us know that. Think of the Christmas that we’ve just left behind. In the Hayes – Cardiff’s Victorian shopping legacy – the Christmas market provided stalls of knitted teddies, lovespoons, handcrafted jewellery, local cheeses and meats, hand made cards and artwork. It added colour, warmth and humanity, a far cry from the homogeneity of mass produced consumables and plastic packaging. Yet despite the attraction and importance of local commerce, objects are often reduced to simple economics; the immediate economic benefit of the cheapest item, irrespective of where it was sourced.
At the minute, I’m reading ‘Edgelands, journeys into England’s true wilderness’ by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts, a consideration of hidden and disused space. Last night I read the following:
New things are very easy to get hold of, despite the fact that we British don’t seem to make many of them any more. In fact, the collapse of our old, physical industries into virtual industries is one of the oft repeated signs of our troubled times. This has come at a huge and well-documented cost to individual lives, social cohesion, community identity. But does it have a cultural impact too?
Walk around the edgelands of Wolverhampton and you see a landscape struggling to shape itself to a world of virtual industry. The canal, once entirely functional, as a means of shifting goods and raw materials in and out, is now a place to walk or cycle in your lunch break. Most of what you see here is rubbish, or the business of rubbish. The old towpath itself is clean and green, but these edgelands businesses are recycling, or waste management, or breakers yards. They are hard-hat zones.
This really struck a chord. Our factory lies 9 miles from Wolverhampton. Much of the industry in the area has moved to the East, or closed down, or converted to retail parks, used car showrooms and more promisingly, Tech. But in terms of products, actual physical things made, forged, bent, pushed and hammered by local people, who in turn support other local goods and services, thus bolstering the community; very little. Sat with a pillow propped behind me, book illuminated by a 7 watt low energy bulb, I was struck by a little pang of pride. We do make these products ourselves. The bits are made locally. We keep money in the local community. We provide local jobs, work with local people, partner with local universities and try to follow a more sustainable path. My favourite current example is below. This was designed as an incentive to get kids to school on two wheels on routes where a bicycle is not necessarily a wise choice (my daughter’s school fits this category with a hyper busy and narrow main road. We’re giving them the first production item).
We’re by no means alone in swimming against the tide. Whilst visiting family in Hull recently, I popped into a shop that’s been set up by a friend of ours. Recognising that people have been hit hard on Humberside, Pru – along with some like minded craftspeople – set up Judy’s Attic, a pop up emporium selling art and crafts made within the local community. The first thing you notice about these goods? They are beautiful. Imaginative. Desirable. It’s also clear that they are made with a good deal of love and affection, deserving a price far higher than their conservative price tags suggest (they could do with a Chelsea branch to enjoy the extra coin). I feel in awe of this approach, by taking an empty retail premises and turning into productive co-operative, it now provides income, a sense of community and feeds ambition. Like Chicken’s frame emporium, Roll for the Soul cafe or Sparse lights, these These are talented empowered people taking matters into their own hands.
When we attend the London Bike Show next week, there will be other companies like us, proudly, innovating, producing and providing . It’s an exciting and inspiring price to be. I do understand Farley and Symmons Roberts accurate and beautifully crafted assessment, but take note; British industry is far from dead. There is much life in the old dog yet.
I’ll be on stand LB67 with my Odoni colleagues on Thursday the 17th and Friday 18th of February. The show runs from the 17th to the 20th. You can visit ‘Judy’s Attic’ on Newland Avenue in Hull.