Armistice 100 Picture Gallery: Meet Scotland’s poppy makers

Band of brothers...Alastair Skene, Gerry Lindsay, Stewart Ballantyne, David Adamson, Arthur Dyke and Danny Renowden who help to make five million Scottish poppies annually. ''(Pic: Michael Gillen)
Band of brothers...Alastair Skene, Gerry Lindsay, Stewart Ballantyne, David Adamson, Arthur Dyke and Danny Renowden who help to make five million Scottish poppies annually. ''(Pic: Michael Gillen)

It’s a unique workplace with an atmosphere all its own, largely thanks to the men and women who work there.

The task at hand is one that personally means a lot to each and every employee.

Informative tour guide...David Adamson (62) was on hand to show us around as we toured the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh, prior to its temporary move to Redford Barracks on November 16 this year to allow the premises to be refurbished. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Informative tour guide...David Adamson (62) was on hand to show us around as we toured the Lady Haig Poppy Factory in Edinburgh, prior to its temporary move to Redford Barracks on November 16 this year to allow the premises to be refurbished. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

And it’s perhaps for this reason when you walk through the Lady Haig Poppy Factory doors in Edinburgh, there’s a sense of leaving your worldly woes behind.

There’s also no sense that the 40 or so former service personnel are standing on ceremony for visitors – the good-natured banter continues as they go about their business.

It’s a camaraderie sadly now missing from many workplaces where the bottom line means more than the product.

But here the focus is firmly on production with pride in every poppy that leaves the factory floor.

One of the youngest recruits, Danny Renowden (26) feels at home at the factory, where he has worked part time since Decemver 2017. He hopes, in future, to return to college to become a counsellor and help other veterans who find themselves in his position. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

One of the youngest recruits, Danny Renowden (26) feels at home at the factory, where he has worked part time since Decemver 2017. He hopes, in future, to return to college to become a counsellor and help other veterans who find themselves in his position. (Pic: Michael Gillen)

Previously housing a printing press, it somehow feels like home – not least because we are warmly welcomed like old friends.

It’s a special year for the veterans, marking 100 years since the end of World War One and the creation of a unique anniversary poppy.

But the pressure is largely off when we visit as the majority of the five million or so poppies created for this year’s appeal have already been despatched.

Work continues apace, though, as staff finish off wreath orders which will be laid at ceremonies the length and breadth of the country.

The team are, however, more than happy to give us a tour and tell us about their own experiences.

David Adamson is our very informative tour guide.

The 62-year-old, who was in the army for 22 years and thereafter the police for 18, has worked at the factory for the last seven years.

He said: “I finished with the police on the Saturday and started working here on the Monday and have been here ever since.

“I’m now one of the official tour guides and I thoroughly enjoy it.

“It’s been fascinating for me finding out about the history of the poppy and what it means to people.

“Most of the stuff up on the walls has been presented to us by visitors and military organisations.

“Around 3000 school kids also visit every year and they love every minute of it.

“It can be like herding cats at times but they always ask really interesting questions and we’re often surprised by the knowledge they have.

“We show them how to make the poppies and tell them that our numbers are on the back of each box sold.

“So if you ever see school children looking at the back of the box, they’re looking for our numbers – mine is 141.”

On a whistletop tour, we discover how the poppies are printed and cut out on 130 year old printing presses – left in the building when the Lady Haig Poppy Factory relocated from the grounds of Whitefoord House in 1965 to the city’s Warriston Road.

Lapel poppies may no longer be cut by hand but each one is still handcrafted.

The paper from which the poppies is made arrives into the factory in large rolls.

These are passed through the cutting and pressing machine and the poppy petals cut to size.

Then the team add the distinctive ribbing which makes the Scottish poppy unique, before they start assembling them.

Around one million stick on poppies and four million green stem poppies are produced each year.

And visitors are always given a chance to make their own which school children, in particular, love, as testified by the many letters and posters on the walls.

David, who has three children and seven grandchildren, added: “The bairns lap this place up.

“They love making the poppies; then they go back to school, do a project and send in posters or letters for our walls. We’ve not got a lot of space but we try to display as many as we can.

“Instilling a sense of pride in the poppy in future generations is one of the things I love most about working here.”

David and his colleagues also display personal mementoes, some of which serve to remind them of just how much their work means.

Thomas McPhillips (73) was a Royal Corps of Signals radio operator in the 1960s.

His grandfather, William Anthony, a Lance Corporal with the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, died at Passchendaele on July 16, 1917.

And a picture of his cousin’s son, Gary O’Donnell from South Queensferry, now also takes pride of place on his desk.

He explained: “Gary was killed trying to defuse a Taliban bomb in Afghanistan in September 2008; he was only 40.

“In 2006 he was awarded the George Medal for bravery demonstrated in Iraq.

“He was awarded another George Medal postumously in March 2009. He is one of the few soldiers to receive two.

“I keep Gary’s picture on my desk, just in case my head ever goes down a bit.

“That rarely happens here, though. It’s a lovely place to work.

“I’ve been here for 15 years and it’s just like being back in the barracks. I love it.”

One of the youngest recruits, Danny Renowden joined the army when he was just 16 years old.

He served for seven years, including a tour in Afghanistan in 2012 which later resulted in his medical discharge in January 2016 due to post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

The 26-year-old initially applied for a job with PoppyScotland which put him in touch with the Poppy Factory.

He said: “I emailed in my CV and, within a matter of minutes, Charlie Pelling, the factory manager, replied asking me to come in.

“He offered me a job right away. I’ve been here, part-time, since December 2017.”

It’s the perfect fit for Danny who, for health reasons, wanted to ease back into employment.

He said: “It’s giving me the routine that I really needed but in a workplace that feels like second nature.

“Everyone has been in the military so that camaraderie is already there.

“They are a great bunch even if they do like winding me up because I’m originally from Cornwall!”

The factory’s flexibility is ideal for dad-of-one Danny who hopes, in future, to help veterans who find themselves in his position.

He added: “I’d like to go into counselling veterans but I need to go back to college.

“I joined up when I was 16 and only have my high school education. So I’m looking into doing part-time or night classes, while working here.

“For me, the factory has given me back some of the confidence I needed to consider a new career. There’s no pressure or stress and if you’re having a bad day, that’s fine. It’s allowed.”

For more information on the poppy factory’s work and products, visit the website at www.ladyhaigspoppyfactory.org.uk.