One of my most vivid memories as a young boy was sneaking into my grandfather’s garage, where he kept his pride and joy: an E-Type Jaguar.
I would find the keys, put myself into the driver’s seat and, barely able to look above the steering wheel; I would pretend to drive. I’d fantasise about driving it down the open road and make my own impressions of the revving engine.
The E-type is a classic British sports car. It’s considered the most beautiful car of all time for many petrol-heads. It is admired around the world, as are many other British brands today. It was also a seminal piece of British engineering and changed what people thought a sports car could be.
Unfortunately, he sold it a long time ago before they became highly-valuable collector’s items. Nevertheless, it inspired me as to what we can make here in this innovative country.
After finishing up my ‘drive’, I would walk back into his house, which was full of solid oak furniture.
All of the furniture had been hand-made and crafted here in the UK by his small company Webber Furniture, founded by my Great Grandfather. It is a small business which has had its ups and downs — it even once stopped production to make ammunition cases for the RAF during World War 2.
In the modern-day of mass-produced flat-pack furniture, it is hard for a traditional furniture maker to compete. Hand making such a high-quality product from solid oak is more expensive per item than production lines using cheaper composite wood.
But the craftsmanship doesn’t compare.
I remember visiting the Webber Furniture factory and watching carver Ken hand-carve a highly intricate rose into a piece of oak. I couldn’t believe the speed and detail he worked with.
Unfortunately, many of these skills and companies are today being lost.
I find myself in two minds about this. On the one hand, I am very much a progressive and believe in innovation and technology’s great benefits. On the other hand, I see the value of quality products and the local jobs they support.
A Webber Furniture table can last longer than a lifetime and be handed down to future generations. If it gets damaged, they can refurbish it and bring it back to its original state. This seems better for the environment than some of our more throwaway habits.
Now, I’m not saying that Buy Britain is only about supporting traditional British industries. Far from it. Buy Britain is designed for anyone manufacturing quality products in the UK, be they traditional or highly-innovative. We want to promote makers and innovators both past and present.
However, I believe that it is worth supporting our local manufacturers who create local jobs. So maybe a modern platform like this can help boost some of our heritage companies and promote new designers and innovators. It is something that I had been thinking about for a while and recent events, such as the economic crash caused by COVID-19, has spurred me on to get started.
Since the pandemic, I’ve noticed many people saying that they would like to buy British. I’ve heard them in person, phoning in to radio shows, commenting on news articles and in many forms of social media. Many people seem to have an expressed desire to buy a few more of their products locally.
However, many of the comments which follow are along the lines of: “It’s impossible to buy British”, “We don’t make anything here anymore”, “But all our products are cheap imports”.
And so, Buy Britain was born.