Never prevent an opportunity for learning

Redwood Comment
Published:  12 October, 2022
Credit: Altitude Drone/Shutterstock.com

Mike Redwood discusses how important it is for the industry to be open to the public and to those who wish to learn more about the process of leather making.

I’m in a “sea view” hotel room adjacent to Cleethorpes on the East Coast of England where we overlook the Humber Estuary. From here, we can see just a few of over 300 wind turbines in the offshore Hornsea fields, which will more than double by 2030. 

I’m in the fishing port of Grimsby because that is the port where the Dutch company Ørsted handle the building and management of the turbines. Based on this big presence, the town is promoting itself as the UK capital for offshore wind, after hundreds of years as a major centre for fishing.

Industrial openness has value

Ever since I was young, I have enjoyed “industrial tourism” and knocking on doors and asking permission was the simplest route. As a young schoolboy in Scotland, I got shown around one of the hydro-power schemes on the river Clyde when I uncovered it on a cycle ride and, thinking about careers before going to University, I stopped off on a trip around the Firth of Clyde and walked into the Scottish Marine Biological Association's marine station at Millport, Isle of Cumbrae. They found an exceedingly engaging young scientist to show me around their laboratories and explain what they did.

You can say that was a long time ago and things have changed, yet only a few years ago in a hotel in Lhasa, Tibet I asked the manager if there was any chance of visiting the local tannery. They had no idea who we were or what we wanted, yet three of us were being given a thorough tour within the hour, only struggling with the translation.

In the leather glove capital of France, Millau, when the Causse factory (bought by Chanel in 2012) was rebuilt in 2006, large areas of the workshop were made freely open to the public, who are trusted to stand behind a simple rope separation. So, no translation problems here, all is visible and quite close.

Visitor centres

Grimsby has taken a different route. Ørsted recently publicised an excellent visitor centre they had established but, when I wrote and asked if it would be open, I was told it was not for visitors, only for occasional school tours. The Port itself would not let me walk around or provide a junior staff member to accompany me; to see it I have to repeat the six-hour each-way drive I made to get here on the one day they offer a public opening. Hoping to see at least something of the remaining fishing port, we walked up the coastal path only to be met by a big fence and a padlocked gate. So here I am complaining about it.

Public support is required

I like the Humber Estuary area. I lived in Hull and Beverley when I was a Technical Director of tanneries in both towns. I was President of the Junior Chamber of Commerce in Hull when the Barrow Hepburn Chairman (my ultimate boss) was President of the Senior Chamber, and together we campaigned for the construction of the Humber Bridge which has now successfully brought together this important waterway.

So, yes, I am upset. Renewable energy companies working in areas such as wind turbines need public support and there is no better route than encouraging interested parties to learn more and have their questions answered.  

Ten years ago, we visited Iceland and went around a geothermal Power Plant. No bookings, no phoning ahead. We were shown around and areas not visited were explained via a few boards. I was surprised at the thorough answers to our question; it turned out our guide was a recently retired manager. They know public opinion matters and that this form of shared learning is far better than promotional videos and expensive lobbying.

Tanneries are potentially dangerous places, which limits access, but they are no longer filthy and wet in the way I remember at the start of my career. In 1974, I left a UK where rubber boots (or even clogs) and a coat or overalls were still required, to Italy where more modern tanneries were dramatically drier and cleaner. Visitors could be shown around much more safely and easily.

More ideas are needed for wider access to tanneries

Today, tanneries are increasingly getting set up to welcome visitors, even to bring them in to do shared projects. More thought about wider access via glass-walled corridors, balconies, secure routes and the like would be good.

I do not understand the attitude the businesses of Grimsby are taking, and I find it a great disappointment. The leather industry I have known is much better than that; from farms to abattoirs, tanneries, footwear and glove factories and more, managers have generally been very hospitable to anyone with a genuine interest.

We know that we live and die by transparency and honesty with our data and claims. Opening our plants as far as possible to welcome those who want to see inside should be part of it. And, of course, Leather Naturally has written the supporting handouts. Just print them out and put your stamp on them.

Meanwhile, I sit in my hotel looking at the wind turbines, trying to learn about the industry on the Internet. I will now go elsewhere to learn about the renewables industry.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on Twitter: @michaelredwood

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