We, the people of Leeds, have more in common with Bangladesh than we think!

Yesterday we, the community reporting students, visited the Leeds City Museum. The museum is an array of short exhibits with one exhibit in particular on Leeds itself and includes an interesting section on the woolen trade.

Spinning wool and flax (we get linen from flax) was once huge business in Leeds with the Armley Mill at one point being the world’s largest woolen mill.

As the need for cheaper clothing grew and manufacturers moved abroad for cheap cloth the industry in the UK began to decline. High Street stores wanting bigger profits and customers needing cheaper clothing led some businesses to import from abroad, even heading to sweatshops. Sadly last week in Bangladesh over 400 people lost their lives, partly through our need for cheap throwaway clothing, with still 600 people missing. Many of us won’t consider the close links to our own woolen past where people of all ages worked long hours in dangerous conditions for low pay.

Spinning WheelOn Wednesday mornings, when I’m not on the Community Reporters Course, you’ll find me at Armley Mills museum with the Spinners of Aire demonstrating our spinning wheels. I often listen to the talks given to school children and hear the teachers mention how lucky we are that nowadays children don’t work in factories, people have safe working environments, and pay is better… well, maybe in this country. However, I often find myself feeling frustrated that we’re teaching children about the past and not linking it to the present.

Have we improved our Victorian working conditions only to create them elsewhere?

It’s a shame that we are no longer leading the way in textiles, but it’s an even bigger shame that in 2013 there are still adults working 60-80 hour weeks and yet, not earning enough to provide for their families, children are still being forced to work full time instead of being given an education and sweatshops are not only producing clothing in Bangladesh, but in all countries making a wide variety of goods.

Textiles 1One group that is getting the message against sweatshops out in an unusual way is the Craftivist Collective who use their sewing skills to get their message across. Their manifesto is:

“To expose the scandal of global poverty, and human rights injustices though the power of craft and public art. This will be done through provocative, non-violent creative actions.”

Knitting and needlework are growing in popularity, and I, for one, am glad about that. I’m sitting here writing this blog and my mind wanders every so often to the piece of handspun wool on my kitchen counter soaking in a new dye I’m experimenting with. Wool might not be our main industry anymore, but many of us are picking up the spindles, needles and hooks and reviving the traditions of old. Recycling and Upcycling are becoming big business with places like Scrap and Remade in Leeds helping us reuse what might have otherwise gone to landfill.

Maybe this is the time for you to take a step away from the commercial and fashionable (which I think means, “every one else has one of those”) and learn a new skill, adjust old clothes to make them wearable again and make something new in our own unique style.


This article was written by Joy Pocock using our Community Reporters website