For those of us who were at APLF and heard the Vice Chancellor’s major statement on the move to the new Campus the excitement of the potential for leather in Northampton has been growing.
While it is easy to get depressed by the last fifty years of relentless Northampton decline in the 20th century the 21st century has been much better and with this announcement looks to be improving further. The Northampton footwear industry has stabilised and is expanding again, even being written about in the Financial Times. Leathergoods businesses like Tusting are making a big mark on the world and our local tannery appears to be busy. In the University leather education has battled through the tough changing terrain of UK higher education to look much stronger now.
With the great help of our friends and supporters from around the world which include many tanners, chemical companies and brands, along with magnificent support from the Leathersellers Company the tannery, laboratories and teaching rooms have been transformed, the courses have been modularised and updated and the research has been further revitalised with much greater industrial links. Talking about links the silos in the University also appear to be breaking down and cooperation with fashion, waste management, business and a host of other parts of the University which routinely overlap with leather is increasing all the time. Allied to the new short courses and a very dynamic teaching team a visit to the ICLT nearly always produces positive surprises.
The vision for the Vice Chancellor is that Waterside campus will create a new International Centre for Leather Excellence. This probably is not what it will be called but it is good for the moment. It will combine the Teaching Tannery, the Leather Conservation Centre (which you will remember is next door on Park Campus) and the Museum of Leather Craft (whose world beating collection has been too nomadic) into one building. This concept will combine modern technology with heritage and design. Just a few metres away from this building will be a multi storey Curative Hub in which leather research and laboratories will link with the Arts, Fashion, Design and other scientific areas.
So for the leather industry this is pioneering work. Celebrating the importance of leather in society, technology and design and using that to unite with modern innovation, future manufacturing methods and fashion all on one site in a town that has been deeply involved in leather for 1000 years is something that just ten years ago we would not have been able to imagine.
It is going to require determination to make it work. The University does not have all the funding for it yet, and the Museum will need some bridging finance to get through the few years until the Campus is built. Right now plans and numbers are being calculated and more details should be available by the end of the summer.
But this is undoubtedly a future to get excited about.