From community project to self-financing business
When Albsu’s two-year funding ended in 1985, Handprint was able to stay afloat with short term financial support from a variety of funders (including Cadbury Trust, West Midlands County Council, and Birmingham Inner City Partnership) whilst we worked on a long-term survival strategy.

It was clear Handprint would need to shift its dependence away from grant aid and develop a self-financing future.

For someone like myself, who had come from an educational, community, voluntary sector background, this was quite a change in mindset. But this was the era of Thatcherism: it was ‘make money or die’. Birmingham Economic Development Unit made the transition easier by appointing a research worker to undertake a six-month feasibility study, examining the market potential for commercial distribution of Handprint’s publications.

After various meetings and a lot of research, we submitted a business plan to the EDU who offered us tapering funding for two years on the basis that by the third year of operation we should be self financing. We were also advised to become a limited company.

Handprint Limited and the move to the Jewellery Quarter
Handprint set out to develop a range of income generating services that would help cash flow the publishing projects. This was essential because publishing is a long term investment. Money has to be spent years in advance of receiving an income stream, so we positioned Handprint as a small media centre, offering space to other fledgling media businesses, centralised office services, and our own desk top publishing design service.

We did this by securing a business loan from National Westminster Bank, and purchasing a building in the Jewellery Quarter, Hockley, with 2500 sq feet of office space. This building housed our own activities and provided rental office spaces for a number of small arts organisation. The building needed renovation and refurbishment. We moved into the new building in June 1987, installed basic services, and over the next four to six months concentrated on renovating and allocating office spaces.

Handprint publishing

 Handprint Publications – Slideshow
The Handprint Catalogue – Spring 1990, was mailed out to 6,500 names and addresses from our computerised database, including schools, colleges, libraries, prisons, social services, churches, and community projects. In addition a further 2,000 catalogues were inserted in the magazine Multicultural Education

Click the picture to open the slideshow

Handprint Publications
Handprint Publications: The Rocky Basic Readers
Handprint Publications: The Heritage Readers
We republished the original two Rocky pilot publications with a few changes, including a new cover image for Rocky’s Village, and added a further three titles to the series

Rocky’s Tour

This book traces a journey from the capital Kingston in the east of the island, across the mountains and along the north coast to Negril in the west. Along the way it looks at some of Jamaica’s most important industries such as agriculture, bauxite, sugar and tourism

Rocky’s Heroes

Jamaica has seven national heroes: Nanny of the Maroons, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle, George William Gordon, Marcus Garvey, Norman Washington Manley and Sir Alexander Bustamante. The book profiles each one, explaining their achievements

The Arawaks of Jamaica

Christopher Columbus did not ‘discover’ the Caribbean. There were people living there for thousands of years before his arrival. This book gives a fascinating insight into the lives, culture and history of the original Caribbeans.

Nanny of the Maroons

Nanny was a military genius – a truly remarkable and brave woman who led the runaway slaves in Jamaica against the British soldiers for 50 years. Her amazing exploits as leader of the Maroons led to her becoming Jamaica’s first National Heroine.

Tacky – freedom fighter and folk hero

Tacky was a Koromantee from the Gold Coast (present day Ghana) area of the West Africa who was taken to Jamaica. Tacky is believed to have been a leader amongst his people in Africa and in 1726 he led a revolt to free his people in Jamaica.

Sam Sharpe and the Christmas Rebellion of 1831

This book tells the story of a man who wanted to free all slaves and who was encouraged by news from England about the anti-slavery movement. Sam Sharpe led more than 20,000 of his brothers and sisters in the greatest uprising Jamaica had ever witnessed. Sam Sharpe’s rebellion was a turning point in the history of slavery.

The Morant Bay Rebellion: the story of Paul Bogle and George William Gordon

Slavery had ended in the ‘New World’ but life for the poor people in Jamaica was extremely harsh during the mid 19th century. George William Gordon, a JP, and Paul Bogle, a Baptist Minister could not bear to see the suffering any longer. Bogle led an uprising of the people in 1865. Both men were hung, but their sacrifice changed the face of Jamaican politics.

Our research had shown that Handprint’s publications needed to be aimed at a wider market including schools, churches, prisons, projects and the wider community locally and nationally in order to be viable.

We expanded the original two Rocky books into a series of five, using Rocky to introduce other aspects of Jamaican life, geography, history and music.

So, in addition to the original pilot publications – Rocky the Woodcarver and Rocky’s Village – we added: Rocky’s Tour (a trip around Jamaica); Rocky’s Top Ten (10 legendary Jamaican singers); Rocky’s Heroes (profiles of Jamaica’s national heroes). We were now selling, sets of five Rocky Basic Reading Books.

In addition we published five new books about Caribbean historical figures called the Heritage Readers. These books were first published by The Jamaican Movement for the Advancement of Literacy (JAMAL) as part of their educational programme in 1972 and Handprint negotiated with Jamal to buy the rights to republish them in the UK. We commissioned the brilliant young artist Joseph Olubu to design new covers for the five readers, and other illustration work was carried out by a variety of local artists.

Empak Black History Books and Posters
Handprint distributed Empak Black History books and posters which were produced in the US. These are a set of 8 books highlighting some of the notable black people in history:

Black Abolitionists

Historic Blacks in the Arts

Black Civil Rights Leaders

Historic Black Firsts

Historic Kings and Queens

Black Pioneers

Black Scientists and Inventors

Historic Black Women

Handprint marketing strategy
As part of the process of professionalising Handprint, we devoted a lot of time to researching and developing a computerised database of names and addresses of potential customers on a national scale so that we could target customers with direct mail. This included schools, colleges, multi-cultural units, prisons, and bookshops.

The Handprint Catalogue published in spring 1990, was mailed out to 6,500 names and addresses from our computerised database, including schools, colleges, libraries, prisons, social services, churches, community projects. In addition, a further 2,000 catalogues were inserted in the magazine Multicultural Education. The new catalogue was launched in mid March 1990, and in the period up to the end of April 1990, orders worth more than £7,500 had been received.

    Handprint and the development of media industry in Birmingham
    Extensive refurbishment was carried out on the building in Key Hill Drive, so that we were providing quality office space for a number of small media organisations which included:
  • Ten 8 Magazine
  • Ten 8 Photography Touring
  • Mark Blackstock Associates (Corporate Video Production)
  • Rhonda Wilson Photography
  • Lantic TV (Film & Video production, productions included ‘Made in Birmingham’ for Central TV)
  • Zubaan – run by Bindi Kalsi (Asian language design and translation)
  • Soho Works (Film and Video workshop) run by Pervaiz Khan who produced ‘Utterance – the music of Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan’ for the Arts Council).

The above projects and organisations developed significant revenue generating plans of their own. Ten 8 Magazine successfully negotiatied with Birmingham City Council for £100,000 to organise an International Photography Festival in the city. Soho Works tried to attract funding from Channel Four to set up workshops. Lantic TV produced a documentary for Central TV called ‘Made in Birmingham’.

In the financial year 1989-90, the combined turnover of Handprint and the above organisations was more than £250,000.00.

Desk top publishing
Under the direction of Derek Bishton, Handprint developed and expanded a DTP bureau providing top quality productions for our own in-house requirements and for a variety of outside customers using the latest Apple computers.

 Handprint Desktop Publishing – Slideshow
State of the art desk top publishing in 1988: an original Apple Mac computer attached to a 21-inch Radius screen, plus (on the left) an Apple laser printer and (right) a Microtek scanner.

Click the picture to open the slideshow

Handprint Desktop Publishing

Ten.8 photographic magazine

Handprint was crucial to the develoment of this world-famous journal over many years. Derek was involved as an editor from 1978 – 1994 and Handprint not only provided office space for the editorial team, but also typeset many of the issues as well as designing this special issue on digital photography

Birmingham Black Oral History project

Handprint designed this promotional pack, which included tapes and cover sheets describing many of the interviews held in this fascinating archive.
Geoff Wilkins, one of the founders of the project, has recently put some of the material online at

Save the Children (Scotland) Playing in Harmony

This was a major project in which Handprint acted both as consultants and production house for this teaching pack for use with under-fives in Scotland. The pack comprised a 72-page book, several language posters in Urdu, Chinese and Punjabi, a promotional leaflet and order form, and a children’s colouring book

St Basil’s Centre

Handprint produced annual reports for this Birmingham-based homeless charity which involved help with editing reports from workers and producing graphs and charts

Acafess Community Trust

Handprint produced a series of leaflets and other promotional material for this trust involved in providing training for young black people. The real McCoy leaflet highlighted the achievements of Elijah McCoy, a black railway worker in the US who developed a key advance on steam engines, thus giving rise to the phrase: is it the real McCoy?

Work with local musicians and promoters

Handprint worked with many local bands, sound systems and artists: this poster advertised a sound clash. We also produced photographs and promotional material for City Boy, Ten to Ten, Jungleman Sound System, and the liner notes for a Steel Pulse album Rasta Centennial

Technic magazine for the British Association of Operating Department Assistants

Handprint produced a weekly magazine for this group of NHS workers over many years, as they struggled to gain professional recognition. The editor, Dave Forrer, wanted to produce a really professional journal which he believed would back up their campaign.

A typical spread from Technic, showing the extensive use of photography. Handprint introduced local photographer Roy Peters to Boada and he undertook many commissions for the group

Black Country Working Women: exhibition catalogue for Light House Media Centre Wolverhampton

Handprint worked with many local media organisations producing exhibition catalogues and publicity material

Finances for computer equipment came from one-off grant from EDU in 1989 and a loan from the Urban Trust in 1988. We had a number of regular clients for whom a wide selection of work was undertaken. These included The Urban Trust, St Basils Project, The Black Dance Trust, The Handsworth Cultural Centre, The Cadbury’s Trust, Technic Magazine (for the British Association of Operating Department Assistants), Midland Area Housing Association, Birmingham Adult and Continuing Education.

Other aspects of Handprint’s work
Handprint provided a variety of services, including accounting, fax transmissions, photocopying, typing, and secretarial, warehousing etc to tenant organisations and projects, thus sustaining their growth and continuity.

Job Creation and Training
Handprint was directly involved in creating a number of jobs and in supporting and sustaining many others. Desk Top Publishing created four new jobs – one DTP manager/designer, 2 designers, one part time typesetter. We provided DTP training for two Employment Trainees from Handsworth College and they both became ‘top of the class’ for being the most knowledgeable and skilled at DTP and computerised information.

The Desk Top Publishing and Handprint’s activities generally supported and helped to sustain a buoyant market for associated firms of typesetters, printers, and illustrators, designers, and photographers.

Consultancy and Advice
Handprint provided consultancy and advice on DTP, setting up DTP and databases and accounting systems to a large number of community projects, businesses, and individuals.

We were at the leading edge of DTP and were able to pass on invaluable support, advice and information to other groups including: WEMAS (West Midlands Ethnic Minority Arts); WomenPrint; Roy Peters Photography, Brian Homer Design, Jubilee Arts, The CAVE, Lionart Associates, Birmingham Independents, Birmingham Multicultural Support Services.

Why Handprint closed
The crash in property prices and the economic depression that followed Black Wednesday – 16 September 1992 – had a devastating impact on the viability of Handprint and the emerging media industries it was involved with. In a matter of months all of the tenant organisations either closed down or reduced their activity. In addition, one of Handprint’s distributors went bankcrupt owing us several thousand pounds. Handprint’s cash flow was squeezed, and as the value of the Key Hill Drive premises dropped and the commercial property market stagnated, our ability to use the building to secure the cash we needed to seed new publishing ventures receded. In any case, interest rates for commercial loans were 17% at that time.

Although Handprint might have been able to carry on as some kind of facility house, it would have had to abandon any hope of continuing as a publisher. And since that was why I had become involved in the first place and was my main motivation all along, I realised it was probably time to move on, and go back to my roots, as a teacher. Handprint ceased operations in 1994. A number of projects including a book about Multicultural Teaching and the National Curriculum, a plan to open an outdoor market in Keyhill Drive and a local history book aimed at primary schools were left uncompleted.