Published on 22/03/2024
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Stephen Webster, Carol Woolton and Theo Fennell
Stephen Webster, Carol Woolton and Theo Fennell
  • The first set of jewel-tool boxes was hand delivered by three founding members of The Leopards Theo Fennell, Stephen Webster and Carol Woolton
  • The Leopards initiative was founded to preserve jewellery craftmanship and mentor young people into the industry
  • AUEA will open its new jewellery skills training centre, The Goldsmiths’ Institute, in September 2024.

Aston University Engineering Academy (AUEA) has been presented with the first set of Leopard jewel-tool boxes, sponsored by De Beers, to encourage young talent into the jewellery industry.

The Leopards initiative was founded in 2016 to preserve the skills and craftsmanship of the British jewellery industry and mentor young people into the industry who are critical to its future.

The boxes, which contain equipment and tools necessary to create a piece of jewellery, were hand delivered on Thursday 21 March by three of the founding members of The Leopards, jewellery designers Theo Fennell and Stephen Webster and leading authority on jewellery and gemstones, Carol Woolton.

AUEA, which provides academic and technical education for 13 to 19 year olds in the Birmingham area, will be opening its new jewellery skills training centre, the Goldsmiths’ Institute, in September 2024. 

Funded by a £500,000 Goldsmiths’ Company Charity grant, plus match funding, the Institute will be based in the Academy’s new vocational skills building and will further boost Birmingham’s reputation as a centre for jewellery and metalworking.

Speaking at the presentation of the toolboxes, Theo Fennell said: 

“The aim is to shine a light on jewellery making, to nurture young talent into the industry and to reach young people in secondary education around the UK, who otherwise wouldn’t have access to jewellery as a career. 

“It will be a way to encourage confidence, self-satisfaction and the pure fun to be found in the joy of working with hands. Design is one area of expertise, but The Leopards also want to encourage the ‘Made by Hand’ ethos as an achievement to be celebrated.”

Stephen Webster continued: 

“The objective of the toolboxes is to interest young people in learning the skills of jewellery and silversmithing to give them a trade for life and a rewarding career as a jeweller – with the longer-term aim of encouraging ancient artisanal skills which are currently threatened in this country, to be passed to a new generation.

“A Leopard jewel-tool box is the key to some fundamental techniques of jewellery-making and how to be at the work bench. A jewel is greater than the sum of its parts: design, craft and materials combine to make something decorative and unique.”

Carol Woolton added: 

“Working closely with the Goldsmiths’ Institute, the toolbox will be placed in schools where applied arts education funding is low, where the boxes will be available for experimentation.

“Phase two of the project will be to raise funds for internships, apprenticeships or placements for students interested to further their jewellery education. 

“By the end of 2024 The Leopards aim to have at least 50 working boxes placed in schools with the appropriate department’s curriculum approved. We and our friends will visit these schools to talk and encourage young people into the world of jewellery.”

Daniel Locke-Wheaton, principal of Aston University Engineering Academy, said:

“I am very proud that AUEA has been chosen as the first recipient of a set of Leopards jewel-tool boxes. 

“These toolboxes are going to provide the expansion and opportunity to gain first-hand, practical skills in jewellery-making, not only benefitting AUEA students, which will also be available to primary and secondary school pupils across the region as part of our outreach projects.”

Notes to Editors

About Aston University

For over a century, Aston University’s enduring purpose has been to make our world a better place through education, research and innovation, by enabling our students to succeed in work and life, and by supporting our communities to thrive economically, socially and culturally.

Aston University’s history has been intertwined with the history of Birmingham, a remarkable city that once was the heartland of the Industrial Revolution and the manufacturing powerhouse of the world.

Born out of the First Industrial Revolution, Aston University has a proud and distinct heritage dating back to our formation as the School of Metallurgy in 1875, the first UK College of Technology in 1951, gaining university status by Royal Charter in 1966, and becoming The Guardian University of the Year in 2020.

Building on our outstanding past, we are now defining our place and role in the Fourth Industrial Revolution (and beyond) within a rapidly changing world.

For media inquiries in relation to this release, contact Sam Cook, Press and Communications Manager, on (+44) 7446 910063 or email: s.cook2@aston.ac.uk

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