Speaking at the Guild’s 50th National Conference, held recently in Cardiff, Ken Cupitt, Master of the Guild’s College of Fellows, explained that for the first time Guild members would be able to display in their shop windows evidence of their craft qualifications.

Membership of the Guild has always been on a personal rather than corporate basis and members have never been allowed to overtly use their membership to commercial advantage—unlike the situation with some other professions.

With the Guild, all is set to change as members will be allowed to draw attention to their qualifications with up to five “Q-star” window stickers representing examination passes in retail sales, stain removal, garment finishing, drycleaning practice and wetcleaning.

Although existing Guild certificates remain of value they will not qualify a drycleaner for certificates under the Q Scheme. Award of the Q-stars will be made only after re-examination under the new syllabus and updated guidelines which are said to be of a higher standard and include the performance criteria of NVQ Level 2. This may be seen as a shrewd move to maximise grant assistance for companies sponsoring individuals on the courses.

The national network of Guild Centres will be organising ‘refresher courses’ to help members update their skills prior to examination. A panel of representatives from companies which have agreed to host these courses confirmed that many would be scheduled for the evening to assist drycleaners who find it difficult to be away from the workplace during the day. The companies include DTC, SATRA, Duval and Parrisianne.

Mr Cupitt calmed fears that the scheme might be open to abuse by explaining that qualifying drycleaners would only be custodians of the window stickers which would remain the property of the Guild itself. If membership was to lapse or if there was reason to believe that poor standards were bringing the Guild into disrepute, then the Q-stars would be returned.

For a shop to display all five stars it would mean that one or more members of staff had qualified in all of the five required disciplines. This could be one member of staff qualified in all five, or five individuals holding one qualification each. In this sense, the scheme is for the individuals rather than the business as a whole and so remains in harmony with a fundamental tenet of the Guild.

Acknowledging the fact that public awareness would be a key to the success of the scheme, Mr Cupitt surprised delegates by announcing that an advertising budget of £30 000 had been agreed and, as an indication of what may to follow, distributed an attractive four-colour promotional folder that had been designed, printed and paid for by Alex Reid as a gesture of support for the scheme.

Other highlights of the conference programme included a presentation by Andrew Marlow of the Environment Agency. He left delegates in no doubt about the consequences of flouting the law when disposing of drycleaning waste but could have said more about the specifics of waste classification and drum design on which issues drycleaners frequently receive conflicting advice.

Paul Higgs of Dane Realstar gave delegates a trip down memory lane with some splendid archive photos illustrating the development of process machinery over the last century.

As for future trends, he forecast more sophisticated computer controls, modem diagnostics, inverter-controlled motors as standard, solvent chillers and in-machine PPM monitoring with door interlocks to prevent premature door opening. He said Realstar and other modern machines do not have a time clock that will be affected by the “Millennium Bug”.

John Buckley cautioned delegates to “Look after their customers well or someone else will” and Steve Scott from the Health and Safety Executive gave an insight into European legislation likely to impact on drycleaners in the future.

Most illuminating was a presentation by Richard Turner, deputy chief executive of the SATRA Technology Centre. Apart from giving the audience confidence that SATRA is as well qualified to advise on matters related to fabrics and garments as it is on footwear, he gave them a glimpse of the kind of materials and fibres likely to find their way into domestic garments—and hence drycleaning shops—over the next few years.

Elastane, Lycra, easy iron treatments and microfibres are already commonplace, he said, but retailers are pushing for more innovative mineral rather than animal fibres to meet consumer demand.

Steel, glass and aramid fibres like Kevlar and Nomex are already used in protective workwear but could become commonplace in high performance clothing and even fashion items sold in the high street too.

Hollow fibres, microfibres and now even “nano-fibres,” 100 times thinner than a spider’s web filament, have been developed to meet specific technical performance criteria because of their insulating or liquid absorbency properties. At the moment these are mostly for specialist industry or military applications but, like so many initially hi-tech products such as Goretex and PTFE, they are quickly adapted to domestic use.