sir john sorrell

19.05.21. internet

As regular listeners will know, every once in a while Grant breaks free of Material Matters’ self-imposed format and meets someone with an overview of the design world. And in this episode, I’m delighted to chat with Sir John Sorrell CBE.

It’s a question really of where to start with John’s career (but here goes). He was chair of the Design Council from 1994-2000; chair of CABE (Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment) from 2004-2009; vice-president of the Chartered Society of Designers from 1989-1992; and chairman of the Design Business Association from 1990-1992. In 2014, he founded the Creative Industries Federation, stepping down as chair in 2017.

Not content with any of that, he co-founded the London Design Festival in 2003, as well as the London Design Biennale in 2016 – both with Ben Evans. Perhaps most importantly, in 1999 he co-founded The Sorrell Foundation with his wife Frances, that aims to inspire creativity in young people and improve lives with good design. Subsequently, they co-founded The Saturday Club Trust, which offers young people the opportunity to study subjects such as art and design at a university for free on a Saturday.

And we haven’t even mentioned Newell & Sorrell, the pioneering design business he set up with Frances in 1976.

This is a long way of saying that he has been one of the most influential figures in British design for well over four decades.

In this episode we talk about: adapting to the pandemic; bringing 400 trees to Somerset House for this year’s London Design Biennale; creating the London Design Festival and why it took a while to find its feet; being born during an air raid in 1945 and growing up on a north London council estate; how going to a Saturday art club changed his life; starting his career in the sixties; his extraordinary marriage to Frances; Margaret Thatcher’s handkerchief and a wildly controversial project for British Airways; the importance of the Sorrell Foundation; and creating a new generation of leaders for the design world.

Find out more about John Sorrell and The Sorrell Foundation

The Smile was created by Alison Brooks Architects and AHEC for LDF in 2016