To have a situation where a University Vice Chancellor understands the leather industry, visits tanneries, attends trade fairs and is willing to invest in what will inevitably be a small school compared to big numbers attracted into more profitable teaching areas such as management. Yet two things are becoming apparent which perhaps explain matters.

First leather has to be placed at the centre of its wider network. That means we as tanners have to remind ourselves that we our industry structure goes from farming through to retail and involves a huge variety of end uses each one of which is loaded down with famous brands. Skills from husbandry to design, from podiatry to waste management, from logistics to fashion marketing plus all the skills, craftmanship and technology involved in making leather and items out of leather. Almost a university in itself.

Practical skills

Secondly it is becoming recognised that we do actually make more than we think, and that although increasingly the creative jobs of design, IT, retail and the like are the ones getting the headlines in most cases they are built around the making of a manufactured product. For towns like Northampton and so many similar sized towns and cities around the world the skills and knowledge involved in making things are being seen as part of the future, and not of the past grounding a University such as Northampton in an alliance of the creative and the practical does link it with the historic roots of its education over the last 800 years (the first University in Northampton ran from 1261 until 1265 when Henry III closed it since he thought it would out compete Oxford). Northampton in the last 100 years has always been a place of technical and practical training from computer games makers to fabulous footwear designers who understand the underlying technologies in making a successful product that is the one the world needs.

It seems now that Northampton truly grasps these points, perhaps even better than we in the leather have done, and has chosen leather as a central USP in their future development. The new Campus, upon which preliminary work has already started is close the centre of the town and runs along the small but famous river Nene which has seen tanneries along its banks for hundreds of years. Soon another will be built, a new teaching tannery, which will provide the basis for a range of taught and research degrees and specific tailored short courses. What is just as exciting is that integrated with this will be the University footwear courses. Northampton is rightly famous for its footwear but historically the footwear and tanning industries have remained quite apart. Bringing the teaching and research together in the new University is indicative of the joined up thinking that will allow both sectors to prosper.

Mike Redwood

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood