Made in Lancashire - Chantelle Lighting, Nelson
PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 May 2016
Anthony Holly’s moment of inspiration led to a creative business employing 30 in Nelson. Martin Pilkington reports
Like so many good ideas, the light-bulb moment for Chantelle Lighting came in a pub, only Anthony Holly wasn’t imbibing but working. ‘I’m an electrical engineer by training, and was rewiring a Yates’s Wine Lodge. I supplied the lighting too, and we made more out of the lights than the electrics, so a light went on.’ Quite literally.
First he sold lighting stocked in his back-bedroom, working nights and weekends; then sold the house to buy a shop, and eventually headhunted a lighting craftsman and set up a small manufacturing unit in Haslingden. A quarter of a century later, the company employs 30 people, still largely focused on the contract markets like hotels, pubs and casinos. ‘Our customer base really is designers, we have about 2000 design practices in the UK that know us, and they specify via artists impressions light fittings that we have to interpret, make functional, and make economically,’ he says.
The lights they supply can start at around £5 for the simplest LED unit, but they’ve delivered chandeliers that set the customer back £90,000 and their products can be seen in some prestigious locations, from Raymond Blanc’s restaurants to Windsor Castle, and in the homes of celebrities like comedian John Bishop and footballer Jamie Carragher. When Peckforton Castle had a fire, Chantelle restored some chandeliers and replaced others. Hanging over the entrance lobby to the Belfry Golf Club you’ll see a Chantelle chandelier made with Ping golf clubs. And one of their most intriguing recent projects was a fitting for Southend local authority, a chandelier that illuminates a circular stairwell over several storeys. ‘That illustrates what we can do,’ says Anthony. ‘It had to be non-glare, match the period decor, meet the structural requirements and, of course, be made to the safety standards.’
Their current factory in Nelson is a fascinating mix of modern manufacturing methods and craft skills. The vast range of parts they require is brought in from all over the world – for example glass from the Czech Republic and Egypt, castings from Italy and Spain. Stock levels are controlled in a Kanban system, each part sourced Just-in-Time, and that stock and the progress of each job carefully monitored by some fancy IT and individual specification sheets.
But it is the delicacy of the silver-soldering, the ingenuity of the blacksmithing and sheet metal work that catches the eye. And the enthusiasm of the workforce is noticeable, not just the passion Anthony and his young management team have for the business, but the people on the factory floor keen to explain what they are doing, and how they achieve the look required for specific projects. One base was created from sheet metal, then ‘scotched’ – slightly scratched – to give the surface character, then treated chemically to enhance the finish, before passing on for painting.
‘At the moment retro – 1950s and 1960s – is the big thing for designers,’ says Anthony. ‘And as far as colours are concerned black, gold and creams are in.’ Individual pieces can be seen progressing from section to section, including a huge steel wheel six feet in diameter waiting to be wired; pendant lights made from bales of wire, and as anyone who has seen an interiors magazine recently, there are lots of ‘industrial’ fittings, and spotlights that look as if the design concept originated on a 1930s ocean liner.
‘It has always involved artisan skills, cottage industry skills,’ says Anthony. ‘We have to maintain a workforce with the skills for coppersmith type work, spinning metal – what we call the pottery of metalwork – specialist glass work, real craft skills,’ he explains. ‘To do that we have to be good at what we do so we can charge the right price, and pay the right wages.’
For more information see chantellelighting.co.uk.