Rachel Garwood and I both attended the UNIDO leather panel that was held just prior to the Shanghai ACLE Fair. I was wearing two hats as I also spoke on behalf of LeatherNaturally!
The leather panel brings together quite an eclectic mix as it has representatives of trade bodies across the world and throughout the supply chain from raw to finished product. It also mixes UNIDO experts with academics and research bodies so that the discussions can range far beyond the topics that fill regular leather seminars.
Probably the most important item on the agenda, and certainly the one with the most related talks, was education and this was why they asked our Leather Institute Director to join the panel. In the west leather in Northampton is the only institution with a really positive story to tell as with Reutlingen closed there is little else left and not there are even said to be doubts about Igualada (which we hope are not justified).
UNIDO showed in a couple of presentations how they have started to use advanced powerpoints to help with education on the workforce up to government officials. It is a different level to the sort of teaching we are used to in Northampton with hands on time in the tannery and a lot of face to face time. Yet new technology is changing things and allowing the use of tools to permit some level of individual learning in the students own time.
The value of the UNIDO work is that they are at the coalface in the developing world and understand the needs of all levels in the business, as well as the priorities. The exciting aspect for Northampton as that we have the content and with the new techniques of lecture capture and the effective use of short courses have it in formats that are close to fitting in with the requirements that UNIDO have uncovered. We are clearly a while away from being able to make everything fit together especially working out how to cover costs at a time when so much we do in the third world is requested free of charge. But perhaps with sponsorship or with seed funding from NGOs the route forward will be found to help the leather industry get onto its feet around the world.
All countries in the world have a right to development and using domestic raw material in the leather industry looks like a first rate way to provide jobs, improvement and a reduction in corruption.
Owen Paterson, Alumnus
While we were in Shanghai a certain Mr Cameron made an old boy from Northampton and an old colleague (well not so old, really) Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Owen Paterson studied leather after reading History at Corpus Christi and was sales director of the British Leather Company by 1983 becoming Managing Director in 1993. He was President of COTANCE from 1996-8. He is also a liveryman of the Leathersellers Company.
It is good to know that a man with frontline industrial experience can get to such a high post. His period in the leather industry was a very tough time with customers fleeing to cheaper locations in Asia while social and environmental costs were catching and sometimes overwhelming an industry fighting to relearn its business to fit the modern world.
What is left of the UK leather trade may be small, but in every sense it is in fine form. Our surviving tanneries are amongst the world leaders, institutions like the BLC have completely reinvented themselves and lead the world, and we have some fine young consultancy and support businesses. Leather is no longer an old and declining business in the UK. Equally the University of Northampton has been busy with renewal, on the leather side with great help from the Leathersellers Company. At a time when Owen’s Coalition Government has upturned University Funding the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies has the kind of industry links, and new CPD industry oriented courses and research potential that he and his colleagues were hoping to unearth.
And one great concept coming from the ICLT is that leather and waste management should work more closely together; along with fashion, design and podiatry. Northampton has a great Waste Management School with huge knowledge of landfill issues and a major involvement in the early work on pyrolytic burning of tannery wastes, now adopted in full in the hugely successful Scottish Leather Thermal Energy plant.
Owen can be rightly proud of his old college, not just in what it is doing in leather but also in his new area of the Environment.
10th September, 2012