Mark Cropper is chair of the extraordinary paper manufacturer, James Cropper PLC. And it’s fair to say that the material has dominated the life of his family for over 175 years. The company has been based in the picturesque village of Burneside, near Kendall in the Lake District since 1845 and Mark is, rather remarkably, the sixth generation of the family to run a firm that currently employs around 600 people.
He also has unique insight into the company having written its official history, entitled The Leaves We Write On, in 2004. James Cropper has long specialised in making coloured paper but, in more recent years, it has also branched out with a division devoted to technical fibres – think carbon fibre paper – as well as Colourform, a new packaging solution which the company hopes will replace single-use plastic. It has also developed a process to recycle used coffee cups into paper.
Not only that but Mark has also launched the Paper Foundation, on a site a stone’s throw away from the main factory, where he is creating paper the traditional way, by hand, using over 700 moulds that he has tirelessly collected.
In this episode we chat about: the history of making at Burneside; why the railway revolutionised the company; weathering economic storms; coping with COVID; how the company started making paper from rags (rather than wood pulp); creating carbon fibre paper; the importance of looking after the material’s heritage and making paper by hand again; and attempting to unite the local community through paper.