Went to a book reading at Unit 40 on the Mochdre Industrial Estate in Newtown yesterday. Unit 40 is otherwise known as Texplan, or the Mid Wales headquarters of Laura Ashley, the fashion and furnishings manufacturing and retailing company. The book is titled simply 'Laura Ashley' and has been written by Martin Wood, himself a designer of textiles, interiors and gardens, as well as an author. The book tells the story of a remarkable woman, an extraordinary partnership, and the creation of a business and brand that spread across the world from its base amongst the uplands of Montgomeryshire. Its a lovely coffee table book, full of quotes and first hand accounts from Laura Ashley's friends, family and colleagues. On page 89, our only granddaughter, Ffion's other taid, John Griffiths from Carno is quoted as recalling "I even had to strain lumpy dye through ladies nylons" - describing the dye mixing process of the early days.
It was an event that pleased me for two reasons. Firstly, because it was an enjoyable do for me to attend. The story of Laura and Bernard Ashley has run alongside my own adult life in Montgomeryshire. The couple arrived from London at a time when local employment opportunities were so weak that most of my classmates at Llanfair Caereinion School had no option but to leave the area in search of a job. The business expanded during the periods when I was Chairman of the Local Planning Authority and the Montgomeryshire District Council - and expanded even more during the period when I chaired the Development Board for Rural Wales. I was a genuine 'goon' as Bernard Ashley referred to anyone involved in public bodies. Didn't offend me at all. Must admit my own approach to authority makes me rather proud to be have been referred to as a 'goon' by BA.
The second reason yesterday's event gave pleasure was that, for me, it signified that Laura Ashley Ltd wants to re-engage with the local media and the wider community - to draw back the blinds again. For many years, most media coverage of the company has been very negative, focusing always on the company's difficulties. Unsurprisingly, every call from the media must have been dreaded - and to a large extent the shutters came down. Its been easy to forget just how important to Newtown the company remains. Laura Ashley is a brand which will forever be associated with Newtown (and Carno) alongside that of Robert Owen and Pryce Pryce-Jones. There are probably around 400 jobs in total at Texplan, and the distribution and mail order units. Laura Ashley really matters to Montgomeryshire, and we should make more effort to show our appreciation.