Blog: Leonie BarrieTeaching scientists to knit

Leonie Barrie | 9 November 2006

A recent invitation to a prize-giving ceremony hosted by The Drapers Company in London set me thinking about the work that livery companies are still doing to further their particular trades through student bursaries and scholarships. And what an achievement it is that they’re still going strong after all these years; a testament to the ability of these most ancient of organisations to embrace modern skills and professions.
If you’re not familiar with them, let me explain. Today there are 107 livery companies in the City of London, with titles that reflect the diverse industry we once had here in the UK. Not all are related to textiles and clothing, of course, but those that are include Clothworkers, Cordwainers (workers in fine leather), Curriers (dressers of tanned leather), Drapers, Dyers, Feltmakers (hats), Girdlers (girdles and belts), Glovers, Merchant Taylors, Needlemakers, Pattenmakers (makers of wooden clog-style footwear), Weavers and Woolpackers (winders and packers of wool).
Most have been around for centuries and were granted Charters to take responsibility for the commercial/trade standards in the City. Most livery companies no longer control their trades, but many still administer the Charitable Trusts that have been left in their care over the centuries. And I’ve got first-hand experience of the wonderful support and encouragement they give to young people coming into the industry, winning a student bursary many years ago from The Worshipful Company of Framework Knitters.
Anyway, back to The Drapers’ Company, which has come up with a novel way of tackling an age-old problem: skill shortages in British industry. As one of the oldest City of London Livery Companies (it has a history spanning 650 years) it hopes to encourage young people into one of the newest textile fields – technical textiles – through a venture with education/business link charity The Industrial Trust. So far more than 1,200 young people have visited technical textile companies and another 500 students have broadened their knowledge of extreme materials with the help of Leeds and de Montfort universities. An annual awards programme has also been launched.
The Drapers Company does not go quite as far as the Jesuits who famously said: “Give me the child until he is seven and I will give you the man.” But it certainly thinks that if it can catch the eye of a 14-year-old it might just attract him (or her) for life.


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