It is October and it is sunny in Scotland

The weather is hot and sunny and we are having a drink outside in shorts and sun hats. We have been lying on the beach. Is this global warming or just an “Indian” summer? Or perhaps the microclimate that Daniel Defoe wrote about in his round Britain diaries of 1726. We are at the Findhorn Foundation in North East Scotland. It is an exceptional place with housing built in all styles to utilise or test the latest environmental ideas. One neat feature is the round tower rooms like the mud houses in the Ethiopian Highlands, only in this case they have used the left over 1920’s wooden whisky vats.

Of particular interest is the Kinloss RAF base next door where they are just completing a very large reed bed installation to deal with the run off from the run-ways. This makes the point that while the chemistry is not well defined it is understand that reeds are able to absorb and digest a wide variety of difficult chemicals, including aviation fuel, without being killed and leaving the water clear for further use. Hence there increasing use in motorway run-offs which are being built to handle the increase in short heavy rainfall we are now getting and where oil and diesel would just end up in rivers and streams. I am quite sure that reed beds have a vital role to play in the future of tanneries, and am pleased that the University is interested and in close cooperation with Richard Daniels on this subject.

Most of you reading this will have been to the Leathersellers Hall in London where the ancient Guild of Leathersellers have their impressive HQ. Guilds are ancient trade unions and trade protection bodies dating from the 12th and 13th centuries. There are quite a few guilds related to leather but Leathersellers is the one which works most closely with the University and their Clerk is one of the Governors. These organisations exist today mostly for the charitable giving that they are able to undertake based on the accumulated investments they have built up over the years, most often related to owning valuable property in London. Leathersellers enjoys giving money to the leather industry when it can as it keeps its links to the leather industry and the BSLT has been a major benefactor, along with the Conservation Centre and the Mary Rose Trust.

Anthony Collinson is the new Master

So last week we had the visit from the Master of Leathersellers, Anthony Collinson, and some of his colleagues. Many of you will remember Anthony Collinson form his days with Barrow Hepburn and then with Irish Leathers. His last leather industry post was as CEO of Porvair building a global business of putting PU coatings on splits. Right now he is a venture capitalist or business angel looking through hundreds of business plans or new businesses to decide which ones are worth backing. He does have an interest in Iconography Ltd who are a digital agency which works quite a lot on websites and Cds for leather and leather related businesses.

He and the Clerk were able to look this time at the start of the new investment they have stimulated in the tannery and which is now being so well supported by other such as the School’s friends in the chemical industry and machinery companies in Italy and Germany. A new fleshing machine and sammy-setter have already transformed the entrance to the tannery and the drums given by Trumpler are on site and almost ready for use. Further drums are likely to be introduced before the year end and additional hand spray booths and driers and a small roller coater should come along concurrently. With a teaching area now available in the tannery Paul Evans is hoping that the students will spend more time in the tannery working and studying and less time going back and forward to the lecture rooms. Seeing the tannery busy with the increased student numbers at the start of term it looks like this is already working and that student experience is considerably improved.

Mike Redwood

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

There is only one John Basford

John BasfordThe 110th SLTC annual conference was a huge success, not least because of those who came along to hear John Basford give the Atkins Memorial Lecture. In his fascinating discourse John’s audience fell into two parts. One was astonished how little had changed in the last fifty years, and the other was astonished how terrible things were before the 1974 Health and Safety legislation. Working in one of the more traditional sectors of the industry John explained how he handles skins into the pits, fleshed over the beam, and used dog dung bating systems. The real atmosphere of tanning at the time came across, and clearly the 1950s were not much different from the 1850s, and perhaps hundreds of years before that, except that tanneries would have been smaller and colder still. John went on to describe some of the changes he has seen, and indeed implemented, and indicate how things might move in the future.

There was a larger than usual element of younger visitors. Some, of course, were from the University but others came from the Scottish Group, Pittards and overseas with visitors from Elmo in Scandinavia and from Italy. There were also visitors from other sectors, such as upholstery repair, who had not been seen before. Tony Covington gave an excellent talk on the tanning mechanism explaining how we should look at tanning in two stages – link-lock as he put it – rather than as simple cross linking. This now looks likely to be accepted industry wide and to be the basis of future studies of chrome and other tannages. Expect all the old JSLTC papers from 1930s to be dusted down and re-examined.

For the future the SLTC seem keen not to use the conference so much as a money maker but rather to invest in helping younger members attend and to widen the attendance from overseas. The AGM also agreed moves to try to start branches in developing countries such as Pakistan, accepting the fact that pricing will have to be adjusted. It is recognised that this is a delicate matter and a two year experimental period is planned, but with the journal coming on line rather than always needing printed copies and associated postage, gives the SLTC to work on different approaches for selected countries.

They are also looking to collect old sets of the Journal to send out to colleges and universities in the third world where they do not have them, especially where they have an interest in setting up an SLTC branch.

Mike Redwood

Wednesday, 03 October 2007