Meet the Master Crafters: Part I

Simon Smith - Design Engineer

Simon started his journey with Northern Lights more than 30 years ago at the tender age of 16. We caught up with him to find out how it all started.

With a keen eye for detail and a passion for making things, was this an obvious career choice for you?

I got asked what I wanted to do at school. I told them I like making things and working with my hands, and so via a Youth Training Scheme, I found myself at Northern Lights. I didn’t even complete the scheme – I picked the job up so quickly that I was offered a full-time permanent position after just a week!

Have you always loved to make things?

It started when I was a boy, and I began making kites. I was always drawing & sketching things too. I remember my art teacher Mr Smith (no relation!). He was a great guy and encouraged me to express myself creatively. I love that I’ve passed this passion on to my kids, with my eldest studying photography at university. Even my two young twin boys love to sketch and paint. Sometimes we get the paint out & go for it.

What do you love about your job?

The variety. Having been at Northern Lights for over 30 years, I’ve been lucky to have worked across all areas – from stained glass, wiring, and spray painting to metalwork fabrication. It’s helped me a lot being involved and trained in so many areas; when designing lighting, there needs to be a solid understanding of the different processes and how things work together.  

How do you work with the wider design team?

Everyone in the design team spends considerable time in manufacturing as it gives them a much deeper understanding of all the areas and considerations that are needed to inform how the design can be achieved or evolve. It also helps us work collaboratively so I can draft some of the technical drawings. Because I’ve done it all, I know the best way to approach different technical challenges.

What’s your approach to training others in the hands-on skills you’ve learnt?

When I moved up to a supervisor, I deliberately put people out of their comfort zone, which allowed them to get more variety of skills and crafts; I wanted them to have the same breadth of experience as I did and discover which areas they loved the most.

What does it take to succeed in a role like yours?

I could always tell [with new people] who would be good based on how interested they were. I ultimately looked for a similar reaction to mine when I first joined; excitement and intrigue. It takes a special person to come into this type of work, solve technical and engineering problems, and be passionate about the end result. 

What do you do to relax?

I find painting very cathartic. I put classical music on, which relaxes me and puts me in a good place to start creating. I’m currently teaching myself to learn the violin - I’ve always wanted to play a musical instrument. Listening to classical music while painting inspired me to choose the violin; I love the sound of it. Thinking about it, everything I do is based around relaxation and calming activities, but ones that also require a lot of time and patience.  

What’s the proudest moment in your career?

I see lights I’ve been involved with making all the time, & that makes me feel proud. My family and I were on holiday and we were in a restaurant where they had some wall lights that I’d drawn up and made. It’s really nice to see things you’ve designed & crafted out on show in different places. It’s quite a satisfying thing. 

Now vs Then: what’s changed?

Even compared to 5 years ago, we’re now making some incredibly challenging and complex bespoke installations. Every day brings something new, which is great for me as it keeps things interesting. I find it sad that the hands-on types of artisan skills that I learned aren’t being championed quite as much as they should. It’s also a shame we don’t see as many women working in this industry either. Things are slowly changing, but I’d love to see them change faster.

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