A pottery firm fired up with success is this month’s winner of The Birmingham Post Enterprise Award.
Whichford Pottery is not only surviving a recession that has put many in the sector out of business, it is also winning new business from overseas.
The company, based deep in the Warwickshire countryside near Shipston-on-Stour and run by potter Jim Keeling, recently secured a major order from the Middle East with the prospect of more to come. The trial order was for a large bespoke urn decorated with 23.5 carat gold and comes from a customer who spotted Whichford’s work at the Chelsea Flower Show last year.
Further orders are set to boost the company’s healthy export book, which contains customers in Japan, the United States and several European Union countries.Its famous individual customers include celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal, who whom it made a one-off, 4ft-wide pie dish for a medieval feast.
Receiving the Post Enterprise Award on Mr Keeling’s behalf at Edgbaston Priory Tennis Club yesterday, sales manager Sue Gale said the 35-year-old business was founded on strong principles which were helping it to survive the current downturn. “We have a lot of loyal customers and some new ones. We are not a flash organisation and it is very touching to be recognised in this way.”
Whichford has recently been helped in its overseas business by Coventry and Warwickshire Chamber of Commerce whose chief executive, Louise Bennett, said recently: “I look around at the work the company does and the quality and creativity stands out.
“Every single piece is individually made and it’s the attention to detail and the work behind each item that makes the company’s work extremely exportable. They have already landed several deals abroad and there are several more in the pipeline. They are a great success story and a great example of how a traditional industry can survive the modern pressures of business.”
Mr Keeling began running his own business in the mid-1970s after training at Wrecclesham Pottery where he developed flowerpot making techniques that date back over 100 years. He employs more than 20 people – including son Adam – and encourages up-and-coming potters through apprenticeships.
Whichford sells to individuals in the UK along with a variety of businesses and has been commissioned to replace a collection of Victorian pots with exact copies for Drummond Castle in Scotland. It has also recreated urns for the restoration of the Elizabethan garden at Kenilworth Castle. The company, which refines its own clay after sourcing it from three UK clay pits, makes about 30,000 pots a year. Mr Keeling said: “The throwing methods we use to create our flowerpots are fourth generation and come from a great tradition. Every piece is handmade by a skilled craftsperson and – apart from digging the clay – every part of the process takes place here. International trade is an area that’s growing and there’s certainly a market all over the world for traditional, British workmanship like this.”
The main sponsors of the awards are Intercity Mobile Communications and Churchill Vintners in association with Laurent Perrier. Flybe and Aston Business School provide further support and Aston Villa FC provide a corporate hospitality package. Advantage West Midlands sponsors the annual luncheon.