Tech savvy, global and social minded: new fabric of Bradford

Ambitious, tech savvy, internationally active and socially minded with strong ‘green’ credentials, companies like Melrose Textile are becoming the new fabric of Bradford.

Based at historic Allerton Mills, this company is a leading manufacturer, importer and distributor of rugs and flooring products. It is expanding its base of major UK retailers and e-commerce companies to include new international customers. It is investing in IT and fulfilment to stay ahead of changing consumer trends and keep at the cutting edge. Its focus on the recycling and up-cycling of materials is winning over customers who increasingly expect businesses to be environmentally responsible.

Melrose is also engaging with young people through the education system to help spread the word about the many good careers to be had in manufacturing. Andy Murphy, managing director, visited the One in a Million free school during Bradford Manufacturing Week and left pupils feeling inspired about the potential of the manufacturing sector.

Vice principal Andy Haughey said: “Andy brought a real energy into the room and the information he shared, which was supported by props and examples of the fabric he works with, really engaged students. His one-hour presentation prompted lots of questions from the youngsters in the room and has led to an ongoing relationship between the school and Melrose Textile that we feel we will benefit from for years to come.”

It was good for the business too. Mr Murphy added: “We learnt as much from the pupils as they did from us. Managing our talent pipeline is hugely important and Bradford Manufacturing Week helped us look closely at our workplace offering and reassess our business culture, based on what we saw and heard from the young people who visited us. Thanks to this initiative, we’ve now had an insight into what switches young people on which will definitely help us attract the next generation of manufacturers into our business.”

The jobs will certainly be there for them. Bradford’s manufacturing sector added 4,000 jobs between 2016 and 2017, taking headcount to 26,000 people. This massive growth of 18 per cent compares to 3 per cent for UK manufacturing jobs as a whole. Manufacturing represents 13 per cent of our workforce, a greater proportion than Yorkshire (11.5 per cent) and the UK (8.2 per cent), according to the ONS Business Register and Employment Survey, putting Bradford at the heart of the Northern Powerhouse.  

The textiles sector made up much of the recent growth in new manufacturing jobs. This is being driven by wider trends of re-shoring and just-in-time supply chains that play to Bradford’s strengths with its base of agile, responsive and well-invested SMEs like Melrose. Did I mention that our GVA per worker is higher than any other city in the Northern Powerhouse?

Nick Garthwaite, the brainchild behind Bradford Manufacturing Week and President of Bradford Chamber of Commerce, is not one to sit still for long and is already looking ahead to next year’s initiative. He said the success of October’s inaugural event, which attracted the attention of Prime Minister Theresa May, highlights the need to improve school pupils’ experience of manufacturing and future proof the industry by inspiring the factory owners of the future.

Mr Garthwaite added: “We are looking closely at creating Bradford’s Manufacturing Weeks in the future where we dedicate at last a fortnight in October to organise school and manufacturing initiatives. More time means more experiences and more value to even more young people in Bradford. We owe it to the next generation to extend our initiative and involve even more employers in the district – we firmly believe we can at least double the number of schools and businesses involved in 2019.”

In today’s world, data is everything and we have some wonderful new evaluation statistics to share with you from the 25 district secondary schools and 40 manufacturers which took part in the creation and delivery of more than 143 events and 3,000 work experiences for students aged 14-19 during Bradford Manufacturing Week. Of the schools which took part in site tours, 100 per cent rated the experience as high or very high quality. Of the schools which completed the feedback survey, 100 per cent felt their students benefited from taking part in the activities. There was also strong feedback about the high quality of work experience days, the range of localities covered and the good mix of industries to be experienced. I can see a theme reflecting throughout this feedback, the same one that shines through when you look at many of our manufacturing businesses and the men and women who lead them. High quality. It’s the new fabric of Bradford.

• Dave Baldwin is chairman of Bradford Economic Partnership and chief executive of Burnley Football Club

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