Open for Business: Bristol’s Dynamic Manufacturing Industry

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

Nicola Dellard-Lyle, Bristol-based writer and photographer

Photo of a man inside a blue hot air balloonThe growth of modern-day technology, mechanical manufacturing and corporate investments have all had a part to play in the changing face of manufacturing industries across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world.

During the early days of industrialised machine manufacturing, families and individuals were directly involved with the daily creation of necessities and luxuries – but how much of this is in our vision today? How much do we know about the way ‘things’ are made, or where their makers are working and living? Nowadays, we rarely see the starting place of the objects we rely on every day. Most items we purchase are manufactured faraway, in countries we have never visited and may never see. This distance can translate into a complete removal of the human side of manufacturing processes and even a feeling that, maybe, there is simply less of it.

Times have definitely changed between the industrial revolution and the economic downturn of the noughties and Bristol is no exception. Our city has long been known for its continually diversifying market, giving it a reputation as a pioneer in industries including aviation, shipping, textiles and even chocolate. So much has changed and been added to in the manufacturing arena of the city, creating jobs and contributing more home-grown business locally. With so many companies raised here and still being founded, there’s more happening on our doorsteps than we may realise.

Photo of a model being made for Wallace and GromitMartin Parr’s photographs in the Open for Business exhibition at M Shed give us, the residents of Bristol, an exciting insight into the city’s manufacturing industry today and the people behind it. For anyone who didn’t already know about it, Martin Parr gives a glimpse into a world of production that is livelier than ever.

Airbus still has a base in north Bristol, where designs for enormous aircrafts are drawn up and parts are built by complex machinery and by the hands of engineers before travelling the world.

The tiny details of our beloved local animated characters, Wallace and Gromit, are created under microscopes in studios right in the city centre. Aardman Animations bring stories to life by dreaming up characters, manufacturing them and building their worlds under magnifying glasses.

Bristol really does take creativity to new heights. Since 1971 Cameron Balloons have been manufacturing hot air balloons that take to the skies when the weather is right. If you look up to the sky on a summer morning or bright evening in August, you’ll probably see a balloon floating by that was made right here in Bristol.

Through a lens, Parr has captured the intensity of the work that is needed in the manufacturing industries of Bristol today. From the massive undertaking of designing and building aeroplane parts, to the imaginative inventions at Aardman Animations, where high levels of concentration are needed to perfect the minute details of Shaun and Gromit.

© Martin Parr/Magnum PhotosThese are more than photographs of workplaces. Yes, Parr’s images are wonderful to look at, artistically framed in his usual, quirky way – but really what he has captured are documents of proof. Letting us know that, in fact, on our doorstep are manufacturers who work hard to make a living and provide to our city and places well beyond it. After viewing Martin Parr’s revealing photographs, it is easy to look back and see that in fact, Bristol has been flexible, evolving with the changing needs of the market and the resources available to its workforce.

The Open for Business exhibition is on at M Shed until 21 June 2015.

Contributed by Nicola Dellard-Lyle, a writer and photographer based in Bristol.

One comment on Open for Business: Bristol’s Dynamic Manufacturing Industry

  1. Flatpack Bart Fantastic

    Once I had the luck to enjoy a Bristol balloon and I cherish that memory. Sadly but true.. as globalization expands more and more, the way manufacturing is handled follows evermore the path of efficiency and costs.. The same is happening not only in Bristol but in London and all over the UK.. and beyond. I myself do an Ikea assembly service and Ikea home delivery for a living and what I notice is the amount of products manufactured in the UK is.. quite low. Of course, there’s a solid flat pack reason for that – it’s way cheaper to have flat pack furniture parts done somewhere, where wages and overall standards are not as high as London, Bristol or as those of the United Kingdom in general.. And I do not mean flat packs and furnishing alone. It’s happening with pretty much everything there is… I’ve had this argument lately, because we do have UK companies like Argos and John Lewis i.e. but guess what? Ikea furniture is #1 in both manufacturing and sales in the UK.. I would not want to bore you with any of my mumbling, but I wish we could somehow turn the tide :/ Draw the line and furniture is furniture and a Bristol balloon is a Bristol balloon!!

    Kind regards..


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