Birmingham Made Me Design EXPO launches with Lord Digby Jones and Emma Bridgewater
If you are feeling at a loss for something to do this weekend, then I'd like to suggest you take yourself to the Mailbox in Birmingham where the inaugural Birmingham Made Me Design EXPO is in progress. There are a host of Midlands stars on view - starting with the Jaguar C-X75 hybrid concept car, a stunning piece of engineering made from a Midlands-based supply chain. Beautiful to look at this is a delight that will surely cheer up any dreary weekend!
I have just left the Birmingham Made Me Entrepreneurs Store where attractive young girls sporting sequined shorts were singing some much loved Standards whilst the Cava flowed - courtesy of Harvey Nichols....This new wave of design talent was certainly making me and quite a few others feel more upbeat...
Yesterday, the whole Show was launched with characteristic p'zazz as Lord Digby Jones entered setting a whirlwind pace as he made his way through media interviews, design viewings and a rapid fire presentation on Design Cultures and Competitiveness.
With over 130 Exhibitors showcased across 12 Design Zones Lord Jones stressed that it was about firing up a groundswell of 'belief' in ourselves and our abilities, through this great celebration of our successes.
"We need to find emblems. People who've already done it, making it a lot easier for the next lot to get on track," he added.
"Emma Bridgewater who's with us today is one of these icons. She has risked everything on the back of an idea. She has done it in the West Midlands creating wealth and jobs. And she's not only done that, but she's put her own name on everything she's done."
Digby Jones asked Emma if she could name the biggest obstacles in her way when she'd started out, with Emma listing her own 'ignorance of manufacturing' as an obstacle, with'optimism' being her single biggest asset.
"I remember the first time I visited Stoke on Trent," she said, "there were closed down factories everywhere and I burned with a longing to make one of them great again."
"It is a great privilege to be working in the tradition of the potteries and today to be turning over between £14-£15m with 200 employees working as part of our company."
When asked about the biggest problem confronting her today Emma replied, "I don't see problems. Yes, it would be wonderful to have more awareness in government of what we do in manufacturing. But it is great that a government wanting to foster industry.
"I see a fantastic picture at the moment. When I look at companies like Churchill, Steelite, Dudson they are all prospering in the commodities hotelware markets. They are making quality stuff in Stoke.
"My advice to young business people is never to have a closed mind and be open to learning every day."
Emma observed that one of the important features of her own business she guarded jealously was ensuring people continued to talk to each other as part of a close knit community. It's tempting to have a conveyor belt approach but I feel it would change the nature of our business culture.
"I can't help feeling that if we could pull together more as a region and a country we could be massively more effective. The model of a factory where you all talk together has a lot to offer. I'd like to see us talking together a lot more and learning much more from each other, passing on our knowledge and experience."
Lord Jones added that much of what was going on in this region was good news so you would never read about it .
Rattan Tata had sat down in Mumbai and thought about where in the world he was going to invest in a new low emissions engine plant - and given all the options open to him he had decided to invest in Wolverhampton creating around 1000 jobs.
BMW were creating their first hybrid electric car engine for the world at Hams Hall in Birmingham.
Not many people were aware that half of every Airbus that ever flies anywhere in the world is made in the UK.
"The wings are made in Broughton, the undercarriage near Gloucester, the avionics are made across the UK and the best engines in the world are made by Rolls Royce in Derby. The fuselage is made in Germany - not a lot of technology in a fuselage - and the French screw it all together," said Digby as the audience consisting of around 150 from business, academia and local schools enjoyed the quip.
"In 1707 Abraham Darby had an idea about doing something - smelting iron ore with coke to create cooking pots for people to use in their homes. He was the Steve Jobs of his day. Out of that came AGA. And from this innovation all those years ago, you can get off a plane today and punch into your iPad to turn on your AGA, and this innovation is being developed here.
"When you arrive in Kai Tak Airport all the carpets through the entire airport are made and designed by Brintons.
"Michael Schumaker drives a Formula 1 Mercedes and we have all heard of that, but how many know that Formula 1 cars are made down the road in Northampton.
"To get our economy going again we need tons and tons of Emma Bridgewater's with some government help along the way. For example reducing Employers' National Insurance Contributions for small business. And supporting British business more where possible by buying British.
"The West Midlands is an important economic contributor to the UK. There are more people in the West Midlands than in Scotland. And there is nothing more important than having the reservoir of skilled young people.
"In the 19th century investing in the transport infrastructure of railways and canals were economic drivers.
"In the 20th century original equipment manufacturers were similarly critical.
"In the 21st century education and knowledge are the only currency.
"Dunlop tyres are exhibiting at the EXPO and built a Le Mans racing tyre yesterday in Birmingham that is on show today. You can't do that without skilled people. People who can read, write, count and operate a computer.
"But today half our kids can't read when they leave school at 16.
"At the same time as we have 1m under 25s on the dole, businesses can't get skilled people. There is some disconnect here. If we can get this right we can make the most of the opportunities for value adding, design, brand and quality can provide.
"It is really important that we are training people to do what we need them to do in work. It is really important for a real collaboration between business and education and for businesses to be open.
"I am Chairman of Triumph Motorbikes. We make 50,000 bikes a year with a £350m turnover generating £30m pretax profits. We want 14-15 year olds to understand what we are doing and what opportunities there are for them in this and other manufacturing businesses.
"For the first time since 1960 there are more young people doing apprenticeships than studying at university. There are 450,000 students at university and 480,000 apprentices starting this October."
Lord Jones was joined on his tour of the EXPO by Councillor Sir Albert Bore, Leader, Birmingham City Council, with both men commenting on the collective energy and support that had been generated and congratulating IDEA Birmingham, the Birmingham City University-led think tank on bringing together the collaboration that had made it possible.
For more information on Fringe events during the EXPO visit Idea Birmingham.
To vote in the Birmingham Made Me Design and Innovation Awards visit Idea Birmingham