Britain’s craftspeople—our tailors, shoemakers, furniture makers, textile designers, potters and more—once were the envy of the world.
However, industrialisation and rise of consumer culture meant our high streets and town centres became less focused on showcasing craftsmanship, and more anchored around products on display. As a result, many of our streets lost their purpose and character.
This is one of the root causes of the decline of the British high street, with the rise of ecommerce exposing the fragility of creating places around products for sale. Furthermore, with less attention paid to how products are designed and made, consumer decision-making has become driven by cost rather than intrinsic value, environmental impact and the ethics of production.
Brexit puts more emphasis on British making and manufacturing, and as we buy more goods made here – which may be more expensive - we should be celebrating the skill and craftsmanship employed to create them.
Who will want to be a part of this new making frontier? Many Design and Technology (D&T) departments in our schools have been reduced or even eliminated altogether due to funding cuts and in recent years GCSE intake has more than halved. The need to teach craftsmanship to our young people is more urgent and yet harder to do. If we see a future in our creative industry, we must make it more accessible, more desirable and more meaningful to young people. We must encourage young artisans to develop their interest, we must nurture their skills and we must find new ways to promote what is a fundamental part of the economy.
I believe this isn’t about making new factories to reiterate the industrial past, but to start small, flexible, local and within our liveable cities. Creating spaces dedicated to making can be a new and exciting way to reimagine our streets.
We need to do this in low-cost, versatile but prominent spaces. Bringing these spaces back to our streets can help again to build character through creating a community of like-minded workers to celebrate new way of manufacturing and the synergies that overlap new trades. These spaces could help with the reintroduction of community projects while also providing design and technology equipped rooms for local schools that no longer have these facilities.
This thinking underpinned our design of Bollo Lane, a new mixed-use regeneration scheme providing more than 850 new homes on behalf of Transport for London. The scheme, which was recently approved by London Borough of Ealing, stretches from Acton Town in the north to Chiswick in the south, an area with a rich industrial heritage in car manufacturing. Our masterplan reimagines what a street in London can become with more than 2,300 square metres of ground floor business use, set along a green and generous public realm. The arched glass fronted spaces draw on the synergies with the adjacent South Acton light industrial area, while providing the potential to create a vibrant live work community and to showcase the ‘art of making’.
We are excited by the opportunity to bring this to life as a new model for how to reinvigorate urban places.