At the beginning of the Millennium the Company reviewed its connections with the textile industry. We identified one area where we needed to engage more closely. That is what is somewhat loosely called technical textiles. This is a huge area but the key characteristics are the use of conventional textiles to do unconventional things or the converse. The importance of this sector has increased in recent times as much of our traditional textile manufacturing base has disappeared in the face of competition from countries where production costs are much lower. However much technical textile development has remained in the United Kingdom harnessing the skills and ingenuity of a wide variety of companies, university research departments and individuals.
I acquired a bit of knowledge about the sector a decade or so ago when I was the owner, in Ministry of Defence jagon, of the Defence Clothing and Textiles Agency that included the Stores and Clothing Research and Development Establishment at Colchester. This did a bit of everything from designing ceremonial uniforms to developing body armour.
To stimulate this exciting area of activity the Company entered into a partnership with the Industrial Trust, now merged with the Educational Development Trust http://www.etrust.org.uk/ in 2005. The partnership aims to enhance the career prospects of young people and enable companies in the technical textiles sector to recruit the talented people they need. Specific objectives are to:
Educate young people about technical textiles and the stimulating careers that are available in the innovative companies in the sector.
Encourage young people to study subjects relevant to the sector, including the sciences and technology, and to encourage them to take up a career in the field.
Give publicity and exposure to the importance of technical textiles.
The partnership has gone well. It has brought a large number of technical textile companies and other organisations into the project as hosts and partners. There have been thousands of school visits to firms and visits by firms to schools. There has been an annual competition and the results of the fifth one were on display in the Hall on the afternoon of 16 November when well over two hundred people connected in some way with the world of technical textiles came to the Hall.
There were broadly three levels of entry for this year's awards: Key Stage 4 about to take GCSEs, sixth formers and university students. All the prizes included not only a cash element provided by the Company but also work experience and mentoring for the older students. There were lots of good ideas a robot man simulator and baby clothes that provided a warning if they got too cold were just two of them.
Importantly the awards stress the importance of science and mathematics as a foundation for entering a really innovative and exciting sector and this was reinforced by the guest speaker, Marie-Noelle Barton MBE, a former director of WISE -Women into Science and Engineering.
A number of firms and universities had stands to demonstrate their commitment to technical textiles and the Bloodhound SSC project - see http://www.bloodhoundssc.com/ - that aims to get a ground vehicle to reach 1,000mph was also present.
A great afternoon and one where the Company was able to demonstrate it is playing a part in promoting British industry and ingenuity.