All in a decade

We seem to be rushing into the new decade at breakneck speed for the BSLT the first decade of the 21st century was pretty momentous.

We had a succession of Heads of the BSLT, a succession of Deans, a new Rector who became a Vice Chancellor, lots of changes in staff, a big development in the tannery with more new equipment in 18 months than we have had for a couple of decades, and an enormous Centenary Party at the end of it.

I became involved in 2004 at a time when Gordon Paul had just taken over the School and finding his feet. He never really actually found them before he was head-hunted (an appropriate term) to Devro and then after quite a long wait Paul Richardson took over for a brief spell before he retired. Stability really only came when the Vice Chancellor asked Mark Wilkinson to get involved and largely through his hard work and dedication over the last few years the international reputation of the leather in the University of Northampton is back where it should be. His work for leather has gone far beyond the call of duty and without doubt the global industry is well please to have Mark as a senior member representing Northampton.

A huge amount of credit has to be given to the Vice Chancellor. Being faced with a small leather department with an associated tannery both rather old fashioned and needing scarce resources to keep them alive must have been quite a shock. Yet in her last year as Vice Chancellor we can look back in the knowledge that she had the vision to see that this was a unique opportunity for the future rather than an expensive historic legacy. Through thick and thin she has supported the concept of leather in Northampton and done extensive travel to demonstrate that support in the world wide leather industry. Not many University Vice Chancellors would have done that. Essential to this vision is a uniting of leather in fashion with the environmental and the teaching sides of leather technology. This highlights our capability of addressing everything that happens from the farm to the fashion walkway.

It seems certain that this perseverance will be carried forward in the hands of the new Dean Kamal Bechkoum who has very quickly shown that he understands and supports how this can all fit in to a connected modern University World. In the face of the likely funding issues arising for the University his support is now going to be vital.

One of the most exciting aspects of the last two or three years has been the arrival and development of a younger departmental team, keen to join in this development. Universities are complex bureaucracies which make even the leather industry with its unpredictable raw material and curious rituals look simple so clever adaptable minds are needed.

Geoff and Pat retire

Mark Wilkinson (centre) with Geoff Attenburrow and Pat Potter
Mark Wilkinson (centre) with Geoff Attenburrow and Pat Potter

It also means that the decade has lost us quite a lot of staff one way and other. Two we must salute are Professor Geoffrey Attenborough and Pat Potter. Geoffrey was with the BSLT from the start of leather research and went on to be appointed Leathersellers Professor. He joined as Reader in 1991 and was appointed Professor in 1996. He was the supervisor for our first ever Ph.D. student. Hopefully his retirement does not mean the end of his association with the BSLT and we will still see him around.

Pat Potter has also just retired after over 20 years in the School teaching and providing technical support for many courses. Pat is one of the stalwarts who has watched as the school has changed, declined, evolved and sometimes progressed as the University changed its name and format relentlessly. Her loyalty has been unswerving and her connection with so many generations of students has been vital to the word of mouth recommendations that are so important in a small sector such as leather. She remains involved in the SLTC and hopefully this will bring her regularly back to Campus.

Mike Redwood

12th January 2010