In my first rollercoaster month as the second female master of The Furniture Makers’ Company, I can honestly say that the perception of livery companies as secret societies with special handshakes, or stuffy institutions full of self-important old men perpetuating a dynastic role, should be laid to rest forever!
The only part of the above which is true, and which I intend to address, is that there is generally a gender imbalance – so I am urging the many talented and accomplished women in this industry to come forward and become engaged.
The Furniture Makers’ Company sits at the heart of a creative, diverse and sometimes challenged industry. Our three pillars of support and development are rock-solid foundations on which we build our work. We’re here to help when times get tough, we concentrate on educating to create a future-ready workforce, and drive excellence and high standards.
My master’s challenge is called One Step at a Time, and it is about reminding individuals and businesses (327,000 in this sector) that for more than a century The Furniture Makers’ Company has cared for the people who work or have worked in the industry. Our welfare support is there for anything life throws at you, from a minor bump in the road to a major crisis. We want your help in stopping our welfare support being the best-kept secret in the industry.
Will you sign up to become a One Step Champion? We will give you the tools and information you need in order to understand what our welfare support can achieve and – vitally – to spread that message to colleagues, employees and industry peers.
As new kids on the block in livery terms (many have been in place since medieval times) The Furniture Makers’ Company has forged ahead as a modern and revered livery company. We are a company that rolls up its sleeves, and, here, actions speak louder than words, demonstrated by the exemplars in all we do.
Take the design, manufacturing, bespoke, sustainability and export Guild Marks as a starting point. In its 10th year, 22 coveted Design Guild Marks were awarded at Clerkenwell – fantastic examples of the best of the best furniture and furnishings.
At one of my first events as master at Westminster, industry representatives joined the Minister for Small Business, the Rt Hon Kelly Tolhurst, MP, plus Maggie Throup, MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Furniture, and other MPs and peers, when Jonathan Hindle, chair of the British Furnishings Confederation, articulated some of the sector’s real concerns on issues that are fundamental to the core of this industry.
Safeguarding the 330,000 jobs to ensure continued growth was top of the list, including ensuring that the Department of International Trade grasps and explores all export opportunities, deal or no deal. Consumer safety is also paramount, and raising awareness about the necessity for robust regulations and laws to guarantee consumer protection is a continuing campaign. Significance, too, was placed on working incrementally towards a circular economy to play our committed part in global sustainability.
Intellectual property protection and enforcement too remains a high priority. One of the most pressing issues affecting our sector is the impending national and sector skills crisis, and urgent action is required to guarantee a future-ready workforce. Ground-breaking work, supported by the Furniture Makers’ Company, is being championed by FIESTA (Furniture Industry Education and Skills Training Association) and is an excellent resource for anyone wishing to find out more. This is chaired by the tireless and passionate Gary Baker of CD (UK) Ltd.
Lastly, in my day job as CEO of Anti Copying in Design (ACID), now, more than ever, it is important to have a proactive intellectual property strategy in place. The potentially calamitous situation remains a threat certainly for most UK designers and manufacturers who rely on EU unregistered design rights protection, who will lose IP protection in EU27, deal or no deal. Please contact ACID to access a template letter to write to your MP.
The UK is still one of the best design-producing nations in the world – the global index puts us at fourth in the world, so it is time not only to recognise and exploit this national asset but also to recognise the valuable IP rights you create. Ensuring that you have protection with a proactive IP strategy not only in the UK but in the territories you either currently work with or you hope to, is paramount.
Dids Macdonald OBE is the master of The Furniture Makers’ Company, a City of London livery company and the furnishings industry’s dedicated charity. She is also the CEO and co-founder of Anti Copying in Design (ACID), the UK’s leading membership and campaigning organisation for design and IP, supporting a safer trading environment.