Made in Preston - The people proving this is still a manufacturing county

The busy shops along Fishergate

The busy shops along Fishergate - Credit: Archant

We are often told Britain has lost its creative edge but there are plenty of people working hard to prove the naysayers wrong.

A chef's knife with a walnut handle

A chef's knife with a walnut handle - Credit: not Archant

Sharp and to the point

Every entrepreneur dreams of creating a cutting-edge business. Andrew Woodhead has done just that.

The 38-year-old has been a marketing expert for well over a decade but his spare time has been spent on courses gaining new skills. One involved time with internationally famous bladesmith Owen Bush and he ended up making repeated visits to learn this ancient art.

‘It looks a really intense thing to do but it actually allows you to zone out from everyday life,’ said Andrew, who is based near Preston Dock. ‘It’s a relaxing thing to do…except on the odd occasions when you get burnt!’

What started out as a hobby has now turned into a part-time business making high end, super-sharp kitchen knives with strikingly beautiful handles.

Professional chefs are picky when it comes to blades and most favour those from Germany and, in particular, Japan. Andrew has managed to match the best thanks to help from chefs, including Chris Bury at the Cartford Inn, who tested his blades and helped perfect them.

Steak knives for L'Enclume, made in Preston

Steak knives for L'Enclume, made in Preston - Credit: not Archant

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Simon Rogan, of the Michelin-starred L’Enclume at Cartmel, was so impressed he commissioned monogrammed steak knives and he has since placed repeat orders. He’s also working with Michael Wignall, a Michelin-starred chef in Yorkshire. Andrew, who has a young daughter, Niamh, and a wife, Jennifer, who is a neuro-physiotherapist at Royal Preston Hospital, admits that for a marketing man he’s been pretty poor at self-promotion but that hasn’t hampered the development of the Crafted Knife Co.

‘Chefs tend to talk to each other so my reputation has come about by word of mouth,’ he said. ‘When I started I didn’t aim to turn it into a full-time thing. I’m still not certain that’s what I will do. I just want to make knives of the highest quality that live up to expectations.’

Andrew is remarkably inventive when it comes to handles. Some are made from sustainably sourced or recycled wood but others are created using a special resin. Objects can be suspended in this – the knives for L’Enclume, for instance, included twigs, dried leaves and pieces of moss foraged nearby. His next set for Rogan will include Herdwick wool.

The carbon steel blades are equally high grade, created in Andrew’s gas-powered forge and then beaten the traditional way with hammer and anvil. They can cost well over £300 but they are likely to last a lifetime.

He has had orders from France, Germany, Australia, Canada and New Zealand and the time is fast approaching when Andrew, who also runs courses, will need bigger premises but he’s finding it hard going. ‘I know it doesn’t make sense but knife crime is so much in the news that when you tell potential landlords what you do you never hear from them again. ‘I’ll keep trying. I’m a proud Prestonian and I want to stay in the city, making outstanding pieces that are enjoyed around the world.’

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Kim Ryan in her home studio

Kim Ryan in her home studio - Credit: not Archant

My chance to shine

Like many young girls, Kim Ryan spent her Saturdays in Preston’s Friargate buying beads to string together for homemade jewellery.

Unlike most, she eventually turned it into a successful career.

Kim Ryan Jewellery has been running for ten years and is a highly popular outlet on the craft website Etsy, having sold more than 500 pieces online.

Cheap beads and string have been swapped for sterling silver and 14 carat gold to create designs of contemporary rings, necklaces, ear cuffs and bangles.

They are all Kim’s exclusive designs and are made individually, often with personalised messages.

A personalised necklace made by Kim Ryan

A personalised necklace made by Kim Ryan - Credit: not Archant

Kim, now 40, was born in Preston and went to Archbishop Temple School. After university she followed a more traditional path with Forbes Solicitors in Preston as a paralegal on her way to being a criminal solicitor.

Then, she married and children arrived. ‘Maternity leave provided me with the time to try my hand at jewellery,’ said Kim, who has three sons aged between nine and 21. ‘I am basically self-taught and jewellery making just seemed to click so much that I didn’t go back to the day job.’

In fact, she has been so successful that she is on the verge of finding an assistant to help with the admin and the beautiful packaging that has provoked positive feedback.

Kim aims for simplicity – clean shapes and textures that are on trend and have plenty of style. Orders come from the USA, Australia, Japan and South Korea. ‘Lockdown has meant everyone is shopping online,’ said Kim, whose husband David is a lawyer. ‘It’s been like Christmas.’

At present she works from her home in Walmer Bridge but may soon have to find a bigger studio. ‘I think it’s wonderful that people entrust me with making something special or quirky. Customers will often want a secret message on the inside of a ring – even rude little jokes between friends!’

Peter Whiting at Beech's Fine Chocolates

Peter Whiting at Beech's Fine Chocolates - Credit: Archant

The sweet spot

Fine chocolates have been made at the Beech’s factory in Preston for 100 years but, while tradition is important, the company isn’t stuck in the past.

This month they will launch a new line of quality chocolate treats. Fabulous Fondants, part of the company’s Jenny Wren brand, are aimed at the younger end of the market, ticking just about every box you can imagine. They are made using Fairtrtade cocoa, they are vegan, free of gluten and palm oil and have no genetically modified ingredients. The compostable packaging has been specially made by a Lake District firm to reduce the carbon footprint.

Beech’s have designed vibrant, colourful boxes and wrappers featuring jungle animals to stand out on the crowded shelves of confectionery. Natural flavours range from tropical coconut to English peppermint. They go on sale soon across the UK and Europe and then into the USA where Beech’s products have been gaining popularity.

Peter Whiting, the 30-year-old group managing director, said: ‘We are not doing this just as a business decision – we also believe it’s the right thing to do. I did an environmental degree at university so I’m aware of the impact consumerism has and we hope this proves to be a step in the right direction.’

Under the ownership of Peter’s father, Andrew, Beech’s has gone from strength to strength now employing around 60 men and women. Their upmarket chocolates and classic packaging means they are on sale in London’s most famous luxury food hall and they supply many of the nation’s biggest supermarkets as well as Booths.

Matthew Smith of Brighter Blooms

Matthew Smith of Brighter Blooms - Credit: Archant

Growing the business

Lockdown has posed terrible problems for many people in business and, for Matthew Smith, owner of Brighter Blooms, the picture was far from rosy. He has a national reputation for growing zantedeschia – also known as callas – and five straight golds from Chelsea prove his prowess. But the big shows are the lifeblood for outfits like Brighter Blooms and, from the RHS to Southport, they provide a substantial slice of income.

The fact that Matthew’s greenhouses at his three acre site in Walton-le-Dale had around 15,000 plants with nowhere to go made the outlook bleak. ‘We thought it was going to be disastrous,’ he admitted.

Like all good firms, when the going gets tough the boss gets innovative and that’s what Matthew did. A wholesaler in Burnley agreed to snap up a large portion of his plants and this, combined with a new system of online sales and click and collect, turned things around.

It’s still not going to be a great year, but the predicted disaster was averted. It involved many hours boxing up plants for delivery as well as selling more through a plant auctioneer in Cheshire. ‘It was a great big headache and very stressful working out how we would get through it. But we did,’ he said.

Tim Joel, Head of Culture for Preston City Council.

Tim Joel, Head of Culture for Preston City Council. - Credit: Archant

The Harris roadshow

Unlike many of Britain’s finest historic buildings, the Harris in Preston was not founded on the income from slavery. It came about thanks to the movement to create free libraries and a £300,000 bequest from lawyer Edmund Robert Harris to erect the grand structure in memory of his father, vicar at St George’s Church for more than 60 years.

‘There may be small elements of our collection that could be considered out of place in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement and there’s no getting away from the fact that our paintings and collections were created by white middle-aged men,’ said Tim Joel, Preston’s head of culture.

But rather than tearing things down, the landmark will aim to build on work already done with diverse groups such as Windrush and the LGBT communities.

They hope to kick-start that process with a £10 million grant from the Heritage Lottery later this year.

The plans to ‘re-imagine’ the Harris involved a lot of public consultation, some of it via Zoom during the lockdown. ‘People said they want more displays and for them to change more frequently,’ Tim said.

There are plans to open up the building to reveal some of the high ceilings and to reveal parts of the collection normally kept in storage. The emphasis will be on the stories of Preston people and their links to the rest of the world.

Money would also be spent on maintenance of the old building, and creating new entrances in Lancaster Road and Jacson Street. If the bid is successful, the Harris will probably close at the end of next year and re-open in 2024. Much of the building will be cleared of its contents but Tim said the Harris would remain ‘alive and kicking’ with roadshows around the region.

‘It’s going to be a very exciting time,’ Tim said. ‘When you stand on the Flag Market you have to salute the founders who created this great edifice dedicated to culture.

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