Firm launches sewing school to tackle skills shortage

A sewing machine at Whitemeadow.
A sewing machine at Whitemeadow.

A sewing school is to be launched by a Sutton-based furniture company in a bid to tackle a skills shortage in the area.

Manufacturer Whitemeadow wants to find the next generation of skilled upholstery sewing machinists, so it is on the lookout for its first 12 new recruits to join the school.

They will receive on-the-job training in all aspects of sewing fabrics required to make Whitemeadow’s range of sofas and other furniture.

Managing director Ian Oscroft said: “This area is famed for its rich tradition and heritage in sofa manufacturing. But there is a definite skills shortage, which needs to be addressed.

“There are loads of opportunities for employment in the sector, but the problem is that working as a sewing machinist is not seen as a glamorous career choice, a perception we need to change.

“The idea behind our sewing school is to encourage people to pursue a career in upholstery manufacturing and to equip them with the technical skills and experience they need.”

Founded in 1990, Whitemeadow employs about 500 people across six sites within a two-mile radius of Huthwaite. It has more than 170,000 square feet of manufacturing space, and is one of the few remaining independently-owned upholstery manufacturers in the country.

Whitemeadow has also become one of the most trusted and well-respected companies in the industry and is a key supplier to the UK’s largest blue chip and independent furniture retailers.

However, it has struggled in recent years to recruit skilled sewing machinists, which has prompted the company to try and develop its own in-house talent. The firm is also keen to change the mindset that such jobs can only be done by women.

Mr Oscroft said: “We have seen a great deal of focus on the need to attract more women to male-dominated roles, but encouraging men into female-dominated roles is equally important. We need to tackle stereotypes about men not being suitable for traditionally female roles.”

Whitemeadow is set to open a new state-of-the-art showroom in the summer, and the sewing school will be housed in the space created by moving its design and development department there.

The aim is to have a rolling programme of 12 recruits who will join the school on an informal training programme and move into permanent employment with the company if they successfully complete their training.

Mr Oscroft added: “If we don’t get more people coming through, we will have to outsource overseas, which would be a great shame.”