Sheetmetal workers of the world unite

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Sheetmetal workers of the world unite

Award-winning writer Chris O’Connell and visual artist Julia O’Connell, co-directors of Coventry’s Theatre Absolute, are leading a creative research project – Witness – inspired by the Daimler building and the stories and lives of the labourers and tool makers who worked there during the building’s manufacturing past. Chris shares his latest thoughts on the project:

I’ve been working as part of a creative research project commissioned by Imagineer at the old Daimler Powerhouse premises, now their base, with textile artist Julia O’Connell. The research project is funded by IDP, who are based in Coventry.

So what sort of piece might a writer create in response to a building like the Powerhouse and a company like Imagineer? There are many strands connecting – the old truths of the Daimler factory and their contribution to industry and innovation at times of change, its tragic flattening in World War II. Yet also I want to think about the future, this is very much where Imagineer sit in their imagining of how their amazing building and their energies as creative artists can power them and the city and the region towards a unique blending of arts and engineering; that the arts and engineering, the arts and industry are not diametrically opposed as some trains of thought might entertain, but can share common goals.

Part of my time has been spent talking to engineers – in particular, myself and Julia spent a morning at Premier Group Co. – read all about them they are a very focused organisation – and what struck me in in particular was their passion both for apprenticeships and developing young people, and for their work, for their cherishing of the art of metal and how they are driving their industry forward into the 21st century, but underpinning new technologies with a determination that all of their apprentices learn the trade from trade from the bottom up.

So I wrote this:

SHEET METAL WORKERS OF THE WORLD UNITE

Inspire
Innovate
Excite
Bespoke
Cutting
Edge
Design
And…
People.
People?
Yes, of course!
Besides
all of the above,
PEOPLE are one of the many things, we do.
Rest assured, the door is always open
Rest assured this place, is about you.
Where might young people arrive in their working life?
Many, here
Premier.
Group.
Some kids come though our door, they know,
mad on cars
focus, focus,
Some, they’re not so sure,
Ok, well we’ve got your measure,
we’ll see some promise,
and let us test you, guide you,
we built our own training school
Really?
of course,
these things of metal are our passion
let them become yours!
Practical and academic
apprenticeship,
you can’t get it,
these
days,
but we’ve got it.
Here.
Mould,
cast
sheet metal workers of the future unite,
and
if needs be
we’ll bring you
through
catch
you
if
you
find
the trade gets tough,
because sometimes, life gets
tough.

It’s about how we all look after each other.
It’s all English Wheel to us
we chase panels
for the future
from the past
it’s an art
a craft
triangulation
parallel lines
square to round
radial lines
lobster
back
bend
Friends…
we’re saying yes to the future,
welcome prototype, and sheet metal manufacture,
welcome state-of-the-art 2D Prima Syncrono,
welcome Olympic torch,
welcome computer aided engineering
welcome all.
BUT if you can do it first, by hand,
Understand,
why,
how,
understand,
metal,
first,
foremost,
isn’t that a great thing?
High strength DP 600, DP 800.
Okay?
Right
beading and crash tests, okay?
750, 250
stretch.
crimper
clipper
wired
edge
safety
edge
high spot
low spot
dreadnought file
notched
out
rough
trimmed,
sheet metal workers of the heart
because our work is an art.
Listen up!
hand shrinker
forming
shrinking
stretching
setting
angles
.2 of a mill tolerance
plus or minus on trim,
holes and form .2
traditional
hand
forming.
4 hours
a panel,
pray,
it doesn’t split.
at the end
of the day.
Old skills for new skills
shrinking and stretching
forming
forming
forming
technology can take us a long long way,
but let’s not lose the skills
Isn’t that it?
Forming metal and man
together,
isn’t that it?

Chris O’Connell ©
September 2016
Imagineer