Sat, Jun

IR talks to… Glyn Farrow, Chief Executive of St Bride Foundation

The St Bride Foundation is well known in print circles. Based behind the church of St Bride at the bottom of Fleet Street, it has been synonymous with the industry since it was founded in 1891. It’s aim then was to provide a social and cultural centre for local people, with emphasis for those in the printing and associated trades. Over the years it became well known for its printing school, library and archives, but is it all about the past? Does it have a valuable role to play in print’s future too?

Image Reports editor, Lesley Simpson, asked chief executive Glyn Farrow about the foundation’s current remit.

St Bride’s is well known today as a guardian of print history. But its aim is also to inspire future generations. With print to some extent trying to distance itself from its craft-based heritage as it attempts to project a more modern service-based image, how does the Foundation square that?

By looking to the future and having a remit that looks at the whole world of printing. The foundation was set up to look after people in the industry and associated trades and that’s what we continue to do.

Nowadays, instead on having a gymnasium and swimming pool to support people in the trade we have other activities going on. We’ve reintroduced the Printing Workshop and we’re starting to run courses that bring people right up to date.

Those in print - certainly large-format digital inkjet print providers - are very eager to get across the message that the industry has moved on, and they are keen to attract ‘talent’ across all sorts of disciplines that people outside the industry may not even think are part of the mix. Can you help with that?

Ever since 2003 the Friends of St Bride have run a series of courses and lectures that look at all aspects of print, graphic design and typography. We do about six of them a year, each with 150 people and they’re always sold out. They look at issues that go from the traditional techniques right up to the future – to electronic, data collection – all the ways forward. If you look at the audiences for those lectures, they’re all young people looking to come into the industry and searching for a way forward. We are like a gatekeeper to information.

In 2010 the St Bride Workshop opened and brought printing and engraving back to Fleet Street and got people involved in typesetting, bookbinding etc. That sounds fun, but it there a more serious training intention behind your educational offerings?

Certainly, what we also want to do is provide opportunities for bringing young people into print and associated industries by showing them what is there. So, in addition to the printing techniques, we want to look at everything to do with printing, including papermaking, calligraphy, bookbinding – a one-stop learning shop where you can find out about all those skills.

We want to provide a real opportunity for thosepeople who would never have had an inroad into this industry before. That means getting to young people and saying “these are the kind of things you can do and you’ve probably never heard of them so come and have a look, dip your toe in and see if you like it”.

We are on a serious mission to work with the industry and bring in all the key players to share ideas and look at things that need to be done and convey what print is all about to a much wider audience. We want to act as a platform for people to share ideas.

One of the things we’re doing along these lines, is offering a Print Knowledge course that takes people from the very beginning of type and print right up to present day techniques. In the mornings we look at the history then in the afternoon we look right through to the future, to the digital age, where we’re going as an industry and all that. We look at all the latest technology to make sure everyone is up to date and inspired for the future.

What I would say is that the key industry players need to use us to get the messaging out to as wide an audience as possible. There’s a whole melting pot of people who can bring new ideas and inspiration and help develop a better future for the industry.

Apart from the courses we run we also have conferences and talks that look at all sorts of issues that will impact on print’s future. So, we have talks on data mapping, graphics – things that appeal to a whole range of young people. But we need to keep up to date on all the latest trends and technologies which is why need the support of the industry; if they tell us what can be done we can help show that to a bigger audience. We can be the lens for passing on the relevant information.

So do many printers or print bodies make use of the St Bride facilities and have much involvement with the Foundation in terms of what events are hosted etc?

Over the last 40 years we’ve really rather turned our backs to them but over the last five years we’ve opened our doors and invited the organisations in and now, working with our Print Heritage Partners, we’re actively saying come in, use our facilities, share the information, and work towards a joint future.

We also have a print networking club, which is a forum for anybody in the industry to come here for an informal evening and exchange ideas. From that exchange we can extract themes that we need to look for, examine and work on. We can do that with our partners then share that with the wider community.

Getting designers of all descriptions to understand what is now achievable with print, especially with the likes of UV inkjet technology, is one of the keys to the print sector’s development and growth. I understand the St Bride Foundation attracts many designers. Do you get involved in spreading this message?

This is one of the things that we’re working on at the moment, because so many people don’t understand the extent of print. We already have designers coming here to learn about print and the message spreads organically. But we’re also now going to have a targeted programme whereby we invite people from different disciplines/vertical markets to attend lectures and conferences.

We use social media extensively, and what we notice is that if we tweet about a conference or lecture, within two hours the events are sold out. We also get re-tweeted by some key leaders in the design world so we see that as critical and a key marketing technique for spreading the message.

What would you say to those that think St Bride is backwards looking, and if anything hindering rather than helping print’s development?

I would say watch this space, because we’re going to consolidate on the work we’ve done over the last three or four years and we’re going to look to the future, and invite a wider audience in. This organisation is a melting pot of ideas, it’s a safe place for people to talk and suggest things that have been thought unthinkable. We want our doors to be open to absolutely everybody, from the enthusiastic amateur to the state-of-the-art professionals.

An edited version of this interview can be seen as a video.

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