Introducing People MAKE Glasgow

Hello, it’s Tom here. As those of you who follow the KDD blog will be aware, I’m interested in many kinds of photography. As well as my knitwear and landscape images, I also work on larger photo-documentary projects. The subject I most often return to in my documentary photography is work. I’m especially interested in photographing people at work and the places where this work takes place. In 2016 Kate and I set about documenting the Shetland wool industry for our book Shetland Oo. Our aim was to celebrate the dignity of working with wool, and I felt this was especially important given that so much of that work involved the often-overlooked and frequently-undervalued labour of women in domestic spaces. Shetland Oo was a real pleasure to develop, and represents a body of work of which I’m very proud. These themes of the relationship between work and place and the dignity of labour are central to the project I’d like to introduce today: People MAKE Glasgow.

Glasgow offers many opportunities to document the important work of manufacturers, crafters, artists, artisans and makers. From shipbuilding to textiles, making has always been at the heart of Glasgow’s economy and community and it’s a city with a long-standing – and often contested – history of manufacturing. Despite massive unemployment and poverty in the 1980s, due to the decimation of heavy industry under Thatcher’s Conservative Government, Glasgow has seen something of a cultural and economic renaissance in recent decades. It is now the 4th largest manufacturing area in the UK and produces 60% of all Scotland’s manufactured goods. But it isn’t just large businesses that are driving Scotland’s resurgent making economy. Small businesses (those with 0 to 49 employees) account for 42% of all private-sector employment and over 27% of private-sector income. And many of these small enterprises are businesses with small-scale manufacturing at their heart.

In addition to a proud history of making, the city has a long-standing creative and cultural heritage. Glasgow was designated European City of Culture in 1990, City of Architecture and Design in 1999, and holds numerous annual festivals, focusing on everything from online gaming to zine making, explicitly celebrating the creative contributions of the city’s diverse communities . Glasgow is often described as having the UKs largest contemporary art scene outside London and it is this complex, imbricated history of making and creativity that makes this city such an exciting place to explore the connections between place and labour.

In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” was announced as the new slogan for the city. If you’ve ever visited Glasgow, I think you’ll agree that it’s a slogan that consistently rings true. Glaswegians are notoriously warm and welcoming and Glasgow was voted as the World’s Friendliest City in 2014. In a UK cultural climate of division and xenophobia, instilled by Theresa May’s hostile environment and subsequently encouraged and exploited by the pro-Brexit campaigns, Scotland stands in strong defiance (67% of Glaswegians stated their will to “Remain A Member of the European Union” in the 2016 referendum). And in increasingly intolerant times, Glasgow remains a welcoming and culturally diverse city, that proudly recognises the value and contribution of its immigrant communities. One in ten small businesses in Scotland are led by immigrant entrepreneurs, generating £13 billion in revenue and 107,000 jobs for the Scottish economy.

Immigrants also bring new perspectives and ideas, keeping Scotland’s making communities fresh, vibrant and diverse. Through the work of bodies like Scottish Refugee Council, Refugee Survival Trust, Saheliya and Refuweegee, those who come to this great city in their time of need, are greeted with humanity, compassion and respect. As Scotland’s only dispersal city for asylum seekers, this sense of common humanity is a heartening source of local pride. Refuweegee’s definition of a Glasgow refugee is particularly telling.

Ref-u-wee-gee: noun: a person who upon arrival in Glasgow is embraced by the people of the city, a person considered to be a local. See also: Glaswegian

It was against this city-wide backdrop of industry and making, crafting and creating, political defiance and cultural diversity, that the People MAKE Glasgow documentary project was born. Like Shetland Oo, this project has given me the opportunity to focus on the work of makers who might traditionally be overlooked, allowing me to document creative and enterprising people from all walks of life. Whilst I had many ideas about how the project might look as I headed out on my first photoshoot, People MAKE Glasgow has very much taken on a life of its own. With each maker I meet, more recommendations for interesting creative enterprises are suggested to me. The city’s vibrant, diverse and mutually-supportive creative communities have slowly revealed themselves organically. And to every maker I’ve had the pleasure of meeting, interviewing and photographing so far, I say thank you.

Over the coming months you’ll get to meet some of the makers I want to celebrate in People MAKE Glasgow.

Today, I’d like to introduce husband and wife team, Jenifer Martin and Ali Reza Fakourpoor, from Reza Wood Designs.

Reza Wood Designs was established by Ali and Jenifer in 2014. Their award-winning small business up-cycles old whisky barrels to create unique furniture and gifts hand-crafted by Ali in his workshop at the foot of the Campsie Fells. Jenifer deals with customer relations, accounts and the numerous other jobs associated with running a small business, whilst working as a part-time English lecturer.

Ali came to Scotland 19 years ago as an asylum seeker from Iran. After a protracted 6 year asylum seeking process with the UK home office, Ali worked as a volunteer for a Glasgow charity teaching carpentry and woodworking skills to disabled and underprivileged members of the community. Since establishing Reza Wood Designs, Ali and Jenifer’s business has gone from strength to strength, garnering acclaim for their original and eco-friendly recycled products; they helped to make the quaichs, podiums and medal trays for the 2014 Commonwealth Games, they were runners up in the 2015 Best Product Award at Scotland’s Trade Fair and, in 2019, were finalists in the East Dunbartonshire Business Awards in recognition of their sustainable approach to manufacturing. When you meet Ali and Jenifer, it’s clear why they are having such success. They care deeply about their customers and the things they make. Ali is a craftsman with 35 years experience working with wood and his love of his chosen medium really shines through.

In Ali’s small workshop, you are immediately hit by with the glorious smell of whisky and wood. The aged, whisky-steeped oak staves that form the casks are cut, carved, engraved, straightened or curved, sanded, polished or varnished into an incredible range of items. From small pens, keyrings and platters to large dining tables and chairs, everything is crafted with expertise and care, with each unique piece representing a little piece of Scotland’s whisky heritage – recycled.

Reza Wood Designs
Glasgow Life
Contribution of immigrant entrepreneurs to Scotland’s economy

Thank you, Ali and Jenifer! I’d also like to thank Moira, Tricia and Marie at Glasgow Life and Daniel Patterson at the Scottish Government for their assistance with developing People MAKE Glasgow

I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing more about People MAKE Glasgow. I’ll be introducing more makers and businesses from the project in the coming weeks and months