Employee-owned manufacturer Gripple is a partner on the Stories of Change project. Our visit to Gripple with Masters students from University of Sheffield began in the Old Gun Works where we were welcomed with a cup of tea by Special Projects Manager Gordon McRae who gave us an introduction to the company in the Boardroom. The Boardroom featured a number of bright orange beanbags, a ‘Great Idea Chair’ where a bulb lit up when you sat in it (tested by one of our students, the bulb didn’t light- but he was reassured by Gordon it wasn’t on rather than him not having brilliant ideas buzzing in his head!). Immediately our eyes were drawn to a sketch map pinned to the wall that showed the entire manufacturing processes for the company. Conversation and mapping work by a small team from different departments enabled their manufacturing processes to be refined to make significant savings- both in terms of energy and financial costs to the company. The collaborative and visual approach to the business would be one we would learn more about as Gordon talked about their evolution and we walked around the factory.
What struck me straight away from an architectural perspective was the spatial relationship between the factory floor ‘shop floor’, the meeting rooms and the offices. No-one, including the chairman, or any of the senior members of the company had a separate office, and there was a clear visual relationship between all parts of the company rather than a hierarchy between those who made things and those who designed or managed the company. Women and men were equally present both on the shop floor and in the offices. There are no job descriptions- beyond if the ball is coming your way, not to drop it!
Gordon explained that as an employee-owned company everyone was expected to contribute to the creative evolution of the company, and there were no strict dividing lines between groups and activities. Their approach to questions of environmental impact and CO2, considered the impact of the company in an interdependent way, taking responsibility for their suppliers, supply chains and the working conditions of factories in other countries.
Gordon invited us to take part in a brainstorming session around their environmental approach to their sites, where speed and the number of ideas was valued, rather than spending a long time on perfecting one thought. Through inviting us to contribute they demonstrated their collaborative approach to every visit. We then set off along the Five Weirs Walk to their Loadhog Innovation Centre making the most of (another!) beautifully sunny day. The company are encouraging employees to walk, cycle or take the bus to work. This site by the River Don, and in the shadow of Forgematsers had both design work and prototyping work on a large workshop floor. We were fascinated to see walls and shelves filled with curious items, images and sketches- and how this led to rapid prototyping and innovation in the company. There was one particular piece of design that we are all really keen to go back and see tested- but this is currently top secret- so will return to this later!