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Apprenticeship bears fruit for Honey

Apprentice Honey Chase is proving she can cut it with world famous handmade teddy bear manufacturer Merrythought.

The 17-year-old is working towards a Lean Manufacturing Operative Level 2 apprenticeship with the Ironbridge-based firm, and in a short space of time she has got to grips with many aspects of the manufacturing process in the factory where she works full time.

She has a real eye for detail with the sought-after bears which include traditional teddy bears, collectable bears and the iconic Paddington™ bear.

And despite not knowing what she wanted to do when she left school, Honey now has her sights set on a career in the manufacturing industry where she is learning hands-on skills and can put her creative talent to good use. 

Some of her day-to-day duties in production include fabric cutting, sewing and packing – so she now has experience of working on the loveable bears from the start to the end of the process.

Merrythought has been hand-making the quintessential English teddy bear in Ironbridge since 1930, with its products sold and collected around the world.

As well as gaining hands on experience in the factory each day, Honey is also improving her knowledge through the apprenticeship, delivered by the City of Wolverhampton College and will receive a nationally-recognised qualification after completing it.

Elements of the apprenticeship focus on health and safety, production, operations, quality control, problem solving and work place organisation.

Honey, of Bridgnorth, said: “I wasn’t sure which path to take when I left school but this opportunity arose and I liked the look of it so I thought I’d give it a go. I’ve not looked back since I started, I’ve really enjoyed it so far and I’m passionate about what I’m doing every day. You get a real sense of satisfaction when you see the finished bears.

“I think it’s much better than being at college because I’m working towards a qualification but still gaining valuable skills in the workplace.

“Merrythought is a great place to work and it’s like one big family here. Everyone is really helpful and supportive and hopefully, this is the start of a career in this area of manufacturing. I think sometimes people my age are scared to step out of their comfort zone and do something different but I’m so glad I did.”

The manufacturing industry offers an exciting and varied career both in the UK and abroad providing a broad spectrum of opportunities for people to work in a technically advanced and innovative environment.

Businesses within the sector range from small family-run manufacturing operations to large multi-national companies driving the countries growth and wealth.

Merrythought, which employs over 20 staff in its factory, office and shop, is hoping to add another apprentice to the team, based on Honey and previous apprentice’s success.

Sarah Holmes, managing director at Merrythought, said: “We’re really pleased with how quickly Honey has become an integral part of the team here at Merrythought.

“Her attention to detail is excellent which is a key requirement for work of this nature. She has learnt a range of techniques and skills within the factory which all make up the production process and she is a perfectionist at what she does.

“Honey is a perfect example of how an apprenticeship can really benefit a business like ours and it’s noticeable how much she has grown in confidence since she started here. As a business with a proud history, we look after all our staff but we’re also focusing on our future workforce.

“With that in mind, we’re keen to take on apprentices in the future, giving them the skills to ensure our teddy bear manufacturing tradition continues for many years to come and remains a key part of the Ironbridge business community.”

Simon Wellman. director for Education & Skills at Telford & Wrekin Council, said: “Apprenticeships are a wonderful opportunity to gain hands-on skills in a live work environment, earn money and gain a qualification at the same time.

“As a well-established local employer, it’s wonderful to see the progress that Honey is making with Merrythought and how she is at the heart of the firm’s production process.

“Merrythought’s teddy bears are made through really skilled and traditional methods of handmade manufacturing and hopefully the skills Honey is learning during her apprenticeship are the start of a very rewarding career for her in this line of work.” 

Pictured: Apprentice Honey Chase who is making great progress with Merrythought