The poppy factory, lest we forget

On the 27th February, 10 Director of Resources personnel were fortunate to visit The Poppy Factory, based in Richmond, Surrey.

Since 1922, The Poppy Factory  has been employing wounded, sick and injured ex-Service personnel with the sole purpose of producing poppies, remembrance crosses, sprays and wreaths for The Royal British Legion’s annual Appeal and Remembrance Day. The Poppy Factory is also responsible for planting and hosting The Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey and for producing the thousands of crepe paper hearts that can be seen fluttering poignantly from the ceiling of the Royal Albert Hall at the end of the Festival of Remembrance.

The visit started with us being offered complimentary tea, coffee and biscuits, all appropriately served on themed poppy factory bone china – a nice touch.

We were then shown a presentation on the history of The Poppy Factory and it was fascinating that, although you may think that you know the origin of why we have the symbol of the poppy, the background is rather more complex, with roots in both France and America and, of course, the emotional tribute to The Fallen “In Flanders Fields”, written by John McCrae, a Canadian officer and poet, where it all began. The presentation concluded by bringing us up-to-date with some of the success stories of how The Poppy Factory helps ex-Service men and women into mainstream employment in all parts of the UK.

During the presentation we were shown one of the first original handmade poppies which, now carefully framed, has faded over time from its vibrant red colour, but still possesses the solemnity and dignity that is symbolic of today’s modern poppies.

Following the presentation, we were treated to a tour of the factory where we were able to wander around and chat with some of the workers. The factory has 42 employees, 70% of whom have a disability of some kind. In addition to those who work in the factory, there are also approximately 90 people who assemble the poppies from home. Originally the poppies were made with a wire stem and a pinch formed button moulded by hand. Nowadays the poppies are made from plastic parts which are machine made by outside suppliers, but they are still assembled by hand by the factory’s employees. Rather surprisingly the household broom features predominantly in poppy wreath production. The black bristles from the broom heads are removed and then hand tied with wire to form a good replica of a poppy flower stamen.

The workers were more than happy for us to take a ‘hands on’ approach in helping them with assembling the poppies. After being instructed by ‘Dave’ on how to make our own silk poppy we were able to join the production line for this year’s workload. We were spurred on by the knowledge that a group of nimble-fingered schoolchildren can boost production by making 900 poppies in half an hour. Unfortunately, our efforts fell somewhat short of this, but, we did achieve a certain sense of pride, knowing that someone somewhere this year will be displaying one of our quality controlled, and more importantly, lovingly made, poppies.

For full information on The Poppy Factory, or to arrange your own visit, full details can be found at www.poppyfactory.org  Visits are free and donations are gratefully received.