Raspberry Pi: The fastest-growing computer company in the world settles in Wales
We thought at the back of our minds that the rest of the world might express some interest in being able to buy a fully functional computer for $35, but only realised very close to our release date that customer interest was racking up in the hundreds of thousands.
Like many electronics manufacturers, we started making the Raspberry Pi in China. We’d looked around for UK factories in the year before we started to sell, but hadn’t been able to find anyone who was prepared to risk the investment in equipment and line space required for a new product whose customer base wasn’t established. On the day we launched the device, we received hundreds of emails from fans and well wishers. We also received an email from a representative of the Sony plant in Pencoed, near Bridgend, saying that the factory would be interested in making the Raspberry Pi for us.
Raspberry Pi has a lot of connections with South Wales. Eben Upton, our Executive Director (and my husband; this is a family business) was born just up the road from the factory, in Pontypool. Clive Beale, our Director of Educational Development, did his teacher training in Bridgend. We’ve still got lots of family in Cwmbran and Cardiff, and we’ve watched manufacturing decline in the area over the decades with heavy hearts. Manufacturing in the area has changed to a horrifying degree; the closing of so many of the surrounding mines, factories, food producers and shops has left the place feeling as if it’s missing a limb. It’s not the South Wales we remember any more.
For us, moving manufacture to South Wales was a no-brainer. The Sony factory can make Raspberry Pis at the same cost as the Chinese factory we started out with. Sony’s a by-word for quality in this industry, and it’s so much easier for us to manufacture somewhere close to home; if ever there’s a problem, we can just jump in the car and be on site in a couple of hours. There’s no language or cultural barrier. And, of course, there’s we take enormous pride in being able to silk-screen “Made in the UK” on our little computer.
We started the Raspberry Pi Foundation because we believe that computers should be a simple tool: cheap enough to use without fear of breaking, and easy to buy.
We want to see kids all over the world having the opportunity to find out whether computing is for them, and we’re seeing great results already in Wales, where excellent work is being done by groups like CAS Wales and CoderDojoCymru. Local schools which are already using the Raspberry Pi in lessons have done field trips to visit the factory and watch the Pis being made; many of the children on those trips have been amazed and delighted that this sort of work is being done on their doorstep.
There is no reason why we should be offshoring manufacture of electronics like the Raspberry Pi in 2013, when prices in the UK are so achievable and the benefits of manufacturing at home are so great. We also have a personal, family interest in seeing South Wales manufacturing revive and prosper. We hope that other companies, in electronics and other fields, will look at the success we’ve had building Raspberry Pi in Pencoed (we’ve sold more than a million in a single year), and think about copying what we’ve done. It’s not just about pride, jobs, and regeneration. It’s about quality, price and convenience too.