Over the last few years the leather sector at Northampton has spent big sums on its tannery, updated its classrooms and reception, reorganised its courses and gone through a major rebranding exercise to transform itself into the Institute for Creative Leather. Press release after press release has gone out and they have all been published in one form or another. Press conferences have been held and questions asked. These events have been pretty momentous in the 130 years of leather education in the UK. It is the first time we have had a course structure and premises really suited to meet the contemporary educational needs of the world of leather. Yet all these tumultuous events have been like ripples on the water compared to the last few years of Tony Covington’s career.
To get a feel for the status of leather scientists in the leather world you only have to check Graham Lampard’s excellent article in Leather International in 2009 entitled “who are the top leather scientists?” The list was quite long and with the exception of some important Italians whom Graham had omitted everyone agreed it was pretty much correct. Here it is:
Leather Scientists Pre 1940
Henry Richardson Procter
John Arthur Wilson
A Seymour Jones
Leather Scientists 1940-1970
Robert L Sykes
Leather Scientists Post 1970
Anthony D Covington
Samir Das Gupta
Eleanor M Brown
These are names that are in the main well known to many of us. For a small industry we have been lucky to have produced so many characters. Each of us might have others to add in, especially those who have watched the skill of some of the scientists in the chemical industry in the last few years and in the tanneries people like Jim Jackman at the height of his career with Booth International.
As expected the two major sources have been the research associations and the leather schools of the world. Today the famous research associations have largely evolved towards testing and consultancy houses as they have been left stranded in countries whose rich tanneries have been in decline for five years or more. This has pushed more research towards the chemical companies who have offered huge new developments in dyestuffs, finishes, performance chemicals, and less wasteful processes.
The arrival in recent years of EU chemical legislation, health and safety, and environmental requirements has meant that more and more of the chemical industry resources have been directed towards compliance. For new research the role of research at educational institutes seems set to return, hopefully collaborating with industry in formats not seen since the 19th century.
So the industry is in need of more Tony Covingtons. After a long successful career with BLC Tony transferred to the BSLT when leather research began and he has consistently produced top quality research. Time and again he has asked the industry to reconsider the fundamentals of what is happening in the drums and his new book and recent lectures makes that clear. Over the last few years again and again the industry has recognised this contribution by giving him top awards and asking to hear him lecture. For students at Northampton they have the dynamic mix of learning basic technology, fully grounded from industry experts and on the other hand hearing Tony explain the processing from an entirely different aspect of beautiful science.
Soon we will be showing off our new laboratories, and will be able to see the electron microscope without leaving the building. There will be more press releases and everyone will be very proud.
Long term it is quite clear that it is the teachers and the teaching that make the difference. Great teachers and researchers like Tony Covington are rare. Tony has to be congratulated. Here at Northampton w
e need to find more Tony Covingtons.
- Pfofessor Tony Covington
Thursday, 16 June 2011