A guest briefing from Bassetlaw DC’s director of regeneration and neighbourhoods David Armiger
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It is commonplace to state that not all areas of the UK have profited from the advent of digital age. What is rarer is to suggest that incoming changes might well benefit those outside of tech hubs like Old Street in London.
But listening to a recent speech by Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, about the way the economy is changing, I was struck by the opportunities this would provide for areas currently facing significant economic and social strains.
Mr Carney was speaking at a seminar hosted by North Nottinghamshire Business Improvement District at the inspiring School of Artisan Food. This is based in a former stables deep in the heart of Sherwood Forest – not an obvious location for IT innovation.
The governor made the point that we are in the grip of the fourth industrial revolution. The first was powered by water and steam, the second electrically-powered mechanisation, and the third electronics and information. In each case there was a shift in the methods of production away from traditional hand-crafted techniques to more formalised processes, often brought together under one roof.
The fourth industrial revolution is based on digital technologies, but brings together aspects of biology alongside the more traditional chemical and mechanical technologies. This has the possibility of revolutionising how we produce goods going forward.
Mr Carney made the point that we may be moving to a system where traditional skills associated with artisan production return to the fore. Especially given, the location, this was a powerful message which has significant implications for how we organise production in the future.
This could change not just the way we work, but prompt us to rethink swathes of our economy, from where and when we work through to what we do with the next wave of redundant industrial buildings. Many of these will not have the charms of an old stone farm.
Despite my excitement, I do feel that ‘artisan’ may not be the most appropriate term when referring to this new digital-based method of production. Would it be correct to describe someone producing a highly specialised and bespoke piece of medical equipment in a sterile environment in a converted garage this way?
Maybe we need to look for another term that better describes where the fourth revolution is taking us, and that better describes the individuals involved at the forefront of technology.
I’d like to offer a suggestion. The term ‘mester’ arises from a Sheffield dialect as a variant of master, referring to a master craftsman working on a small scale. Much of the early cutlery work in Sheffield before the 18th century was undertaken from start to finish by such individuals.
As the work become more specialised, cutlery factories rented space to self-employed master craftsmen, who became known as the little mesters. Though this type of production peaked in the 19th century and has virtually died out, maybe we are about to see a renaissance.
David Armiger, director of regeneration and neighbourhoods, Bassetlaw DC