Jewellery designer - Leila Swift - speaks about undiscovered inspiration in SE1 and the community charm of the London Bridge area.
How long have you worked in London Bridge?
I’ve lived and worked in London Bridge for about three years now. Although I was actually born in Guys Hospital, so I guess I haven’t gone very far!
What first drew you to London Bridge?
I moved to London Bridge before I started working here so I got to know the area as a resident before a business. It’s such a fun community to be part of. Lots of interesting creative people live and work round here, and there’s always new independent shops popping up. I like that it’s in the heart of central London, but it still has that lovely community feeling that so many places have sadly lost.
What would you like to see more of in London Bridge?
Bermondsey Street Festival is a great day in London Bridge, where all the neighborhood come together. There are stalls, food, dancing and much more. It would be lovely if there were more events like that to celebrate this special area throughout the year.
Do you draw inspiration for your jewellry from your surroundings?
I draw inspiration for my designs from intricate patterns that are often overlooked – from antique lace and wrought iron railings to ornate patterns in architecture. If I’m in need of inspiration, I go for a walk around London with a camera and take photographs of tiny beautiful details that are mostly not noticed. SE1 has so many interesting buildings that I have been inspired by in the past.
How did you get into jewelry making?
When I was younger I knew I wanted to do something arty, but had no idea of the possibilities that were out there. I did an art foundation course in Bournemouth where I did a one-week taster course in 3-dimensional design, and fell in love with making jewellery. The very close work and intricate details of jewellery making were perfect for me; I think every jeweller has a bit of OCD in them! I then went on to study BA Jewellery at Sir John Cass in East London. After graduating in 2010 I went on to work for a couple of big jewellery brands, then in 2014 I decided to take the plunge and start my own business. I now design and hand-make my jewellery from my studio in London Bridge.
Would you recommend ‘going it alone’ to your peers?
Leaving my full time job was by far the scariest decision I’ve had to make, stepping away from the security of a salary to the unknown world of self employment gave me lots of sleepless nights! But as well as being worrying, it has also been the best choice I’ve ever made. To be in charge of your own success and to have the flexibility of working the hours you choose has been brilliant. It’s hard work, but I would recommend it to anyone.
What most excites you about running your own business?
I love meeting my customers and seeing them so happy with their jewellery. It’s a very nice thought that in 100 years people might still be wearing jewellery made by me that has been passed down through generations. I also make lots of wedding and engagement rings, I love working with the couple to make sure that what they end up with is exactly their dream. From sizing fingers over a cup of tea and cake one afternoon, to a few months later when the ring is polished, engraved, and shining, waiting in the best man’s pocket. It’s a very special process to be part of.
If you weren’t a jeweller, what do you think you would be?
It’d have to be something creative and hands on, I’m not very good at working in front of a computer! I’ve always thought being a primary school teacher would be a fun rewarding job, although I think I’ll stick to jewellery for now.
Your mother also works in London Bridge; do you feel like there is a sense of community within the area?
There’s a really nice sense of community in SE1. As I live and work here I’ve got to know lots of local people, which is unusual in London where most people are anonymous and don’t even smile at each other!
London Bridge has changed a lot throughout the years, what do you think is the best and worst change?
Most of the changes in London Bridge have been very positive, there are so many independent shops, galleries, bars and restaurants these days. And I think The Shard has brought loads of people to SE1 who maybe wouldn't have come before. I just hope that the area manages to keep it’s charm with all the big developments that are happening. It would be such a shame if all the big high street names opened around here and pushed the smaller ones out.