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Wednesday, 01 October 2014

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Cumbrian firm supplying glass souvenirs to world's grandest cathedrals

The world’s grandest, historic cathedrals attract millions of people through their doors each year.

Winged Heart photo
Drew Landsborough with a copy of the Stella Maris from Notre Dame, Paris

After admiring the sprawling architecture and intricate stained glass windows at Notre Dame, La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and St Patrick’s Cathedral on New York’s 5th Avenue, many will wander into the gift shop to buy a souvenir.

But it may come as a surprise to learn that some of these are made by a tiny firm, tucked away in Brampton.

Winged Heart stained glass, based in the town’s Craw Hall, produces replica stained glass panels for some of the world's most revered cathedrals.

They are then sent out to an army of working mums across north Cumbria who paint and then return them back to the Brampton HQ, ready to be shipped out to the world’s busiest gift shops.

Drew Landsbourgh employs six people at the firm he runs with his wife Mara Eagle.

They specialise in reproductions of cathedrals’ stained glass windows to be sold in the gift shops, and the couple have build up their business over the past 15 years to cover most of those in the UK including Canterbury, Westminster, York Minster and St Paul’s.

But with uncertainty over the UK economy, Drew recently decided to take the talents of his Brampton workforce further afield.

With nothing to lose he decided to aim high and first approached buyers at Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

“We contacted them and asked if they would be interested and they said yes and a week later we turned up of their doorsteps. They were quite surprised to see us but we took pictures of the windows and showed them what we could do and we started selling in their gift shop.”

When the souvenirs started to sell well, Drew and Mara drew up a wishlist of some of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals including Washington National Cathedral, Strasbourg Cathedral, St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York – and the buildings’ buyers also snapped up their offer.

Drew added: “People always find it strange when they travel to these famous places and find our work.

“We just thought that rather than be fearful about the British economy we would look over seas to expand our client base.”

The self-taught artist started out making one-off fired stained glass pieces but said: “I was putting all my work into a piece and that was sold to someone and I never saw it again – it was like losing a member of the family.”

He decided to move into the heritage market after setting up Winged Heart with Mara in Craw Hall 15 years ago.

Drew continued: “We take pictures of sections of these famous windows and then we make the glass at our workshop.

“The windows are then hand painted with all the colours applied by brush.

“These are farmed out to ladies with varying degrees of skills who work for us in their homes. This is typically a mother with children, who has a few hours free once she has put the kids off to school.”

A total of 25 self-employed painters, mainly from Carlisle and Brampton but also from the Penrith and the south of Scotland, work for Winged Heart.

But with an extra work load to tackle Drew is looking for more workers and is now expanding his workshop to take over the unit next door.

He added that although his client base was growing he did not want the size of his unique business to snowball.

“I don’t want to have an ultra-large firm. We are artists and enjoy the interaction with our customers. I don’t want to have a layer of middle men and personnel managers.”

As well as dealing with the production and export, a dedicated team at Winged Heart also handle the processing and Drew and Mara also visit the gift shops regularly to check that everything is running well.

For more details: www.winged-heart.com/

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