(suggested) reading age: 6/7+
(suggested) interest age: 4+
Illustrations: Sara Rhys https://www.sararhys.co.uk/
Covid was a difficult time for many businesses, and in 2020 another well-known and familiar company ran into major financial difficulties: Laura Ashley. Their shops are all over Britain selling luxury clothing and household goods since the 20th century. (I'm we’ve got Laura Ashley wallpaper in our bedroom!) At the last minute, NEXT stepped in to save the 'brand' and have now fully incorporated it as part of the Next family. This means Laura Ashley's future is safe for now, and her name will remain on the high street in one way or another for years to come.
But I wonder how many of you knew she had a Welsh connection? Yes, you guessed it, she was Welsh! I
remember reading about it in a Dref Wen series years ago. Those books (whilst still useful) are now outdated, and we were well overdue for a new book about this remarkable individual.
Nowdays, there are strong and inspiring women all around us, and several chief executives are women. But in Laura's time, this was probably something extraordinary. It's a testament to her determination that she has managed to set up an incredibly prosperous business and raise a family at the same time. And despite the success of her company and all the hustle and bustle that came with it, her family came first every time. What a shame she died relatively young in an accident at home.
I love the ‘Enwogion o Fri’ series which always focuses on an amazing Welsh person, shining a light on individuals who may not have received the attention they deserve until now. There's a lot of consistency in the series – text that flows and is easy to read, paired with beautiful pictures that enrich the story. But there are also many differences within the series, and I particularly like the fact that each volume is unique in that there’s always a new combination of author/illustrators at the helm, ensuring that each one feels fresh and different.
I can see why this series has been so popular with teachers (as well as parents) – it’s an useful resource for morning assemblies, (it meets some of the requirements of the Siarter Iaith and the New Curriculum, for example). It could serve as an useful resource for an independent research task - yes, the web is great, but Welsh language websites are lacking so books like this are handy.
As well as Laura Ashley's life story, I also received a copy of Ann by post. I wasn’t very familiar with Ann. I certainly learned a lot of new facts while reading this book. If I'm being honest, I preferred the book about Laura's life. Nothing against Ann Griffiths, but if I had to choose, I'd choose Laura Ashley's book. I was just more interested in her story. I've passed the old factory in Carno several times on the way down to Cardiff on the A470 and I'm sure I used the company as a case study for my business GCSE project.
There's plenty of choice in the series, with lots of fascinating individuals to choose from. Whichever one you pick; you won't be disappointed. I’m going to read Betty Campbell's book next.