Through her upmarket furniture brand Soane Britain, Lulu Lytle sells handwoven rattan seating. When England’s last remaining rattan workshop went under, that could have been the end of her extravagant sofas. So she bought the 99-year-old venture to keep production going. Now that the factory is thriving, her focus is on the future – and that means digging deep to invest in apprentices. 

“We’d been working with Angraves in Thurmaston, Leicestershire, for about a decade when they went into administration. Soane is all about made in Britain, so we needed rattan weaving to keep going here. When we bought the company in 2011, only two of the 55 staff were still using traditional weaving skills, because Angraves had stopped investing in apprenticeships. 

We had to secure the next generation of makers. There are two key skills in rattan furniture - frame-making and weaving – and both carry a seven-year apprenticeship. So we plucked joinery student Marcus Clifton from Leicester College as our first apprentice. Marcus was treated like an apprentice and is going through formal training, while being paid a full-time salary. We were paying him and teaching him but he wasn’t weaving anything we could sell. It was a very long-term view as he couldn’t generate revenue for a year. 

Since then, another five trainees have joined us, and we’ve developed an NVQ qualification. 

Once the frame’s made, it takes one person more than two weeks to weave one of our sofas. Soane’s rattan sales have grown 50% this year, but we definitely lose orders because of the long lead time. 

It’s about the risk element – touch wood since 2011 the investment is being rewarded. And this year, through its own profits, the workshop is funding itself. 

We get no Government help because rattan is considered a ‘dead’ industry. We made huge efforts to try to get help, but it just didn’t exist. 

We would be more likely to take on the risk of employing more people if we received matched funding on their salary, or let’s say if the Government covered 30%. We’d love an apprenticeship scheme initiated for rattan, and we could help with that.”