Coventry is our current City of Culture with a host of events, exhibitions and opportunities for the city to celebrate and develop. You can find out more at coventry2021.co.uk/
I've been invited to demonstrate pole lathe turning at the Making Places event at Draper's Hall tomorrow and we're busily packing up. It's made me think about culture and what it means to me. Mahatma Gandhi's quote suggests a deeper meaning than things we can see, touch, smell, taste and hear. Working in the woodland and spending time with people who work with their hands has helped me appreciate the kindness and generosity, the passion and graft, the beliefs and values of people from all walks of life. The culture, heart and soul of these people are certainly something I will celebrate while I'm in Coventry tomorrow.
A nations' culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people "
This week I was invited to the Heritage Craft Awards at the House of Lords in London. This was an event postponed from late last year and awards from 2020 and 2021 were awarded to some truly inspiring craftspeople. I was fortunate enough to chat to many of these talented individuals who I had seen from afar but never had the chance to meet face to face. The variety of skills represented was absolutely fascinating - from glass engraving to boat building, papermaking to shoe making, wheelwrighting to pottery and ceramics plus a whole lot more. You can find out more using the link below.
I am a really great believer in the Heritage Craft Association. Their work promoting the value and importance of keeping these skills alive cannot be underestimated. Quite recently they have undergone a process of setting up regional groups to promote their work to a more "local audience ". I would encourage anyone with an interest in traditional skills to look at joining the organisation. You don't have to be a maker. This will help ensure the work of the association continues into the future and the next generation of makers will have the opportunity to benefit from their support.
Another organisation I have become involved with more recently is the National Coppice Federation. This is a fairly long established organisation which promotes coppice work and other traditional country skills such as hedge laying. These two skills are linked very closely by their nature. The aim of the federation is to "professionalise" the coppice industry in an effort to make coppice work and coppice woodlands sustainable for the future. NCFed works with many of the larger forestry and woodland charities and organisations but, because of the way coppice woodlands have been worked historically and today, coppice workers often work alone or in small cooperatives. The NCFed are working to give us a more collective voice going forward. Take a look at the link below to find out more.
I will be setting up a local coppice group near our woodland in the Spring 2022 to try and develop the work of the NCFed locally.
These two organisations are very different in their set up and styles but are both run by a committed set of people who work so hard without personal gain to keep our traditional skills relevant in today's increasingly hectic world.
I hope in some small way I am helping with that process.
The contrast between London, my workshop and the coppice was stark this week, even harsh at times. I rarely venture into cities these days and found the noise and pace of London quite a fascination but its not something I would welcome every day! Give me the sounds of the birds, the running of the stream or even the rhythm and subtle hiss of the shavings coming from the gouges on the pole lathe any day. It is rewarding to step outside your comfort zone sometimes to appreciate what you enjoy at home and work.
The work in the coppice goes on regardless of the pandemic. The woodland cycle waits for no man and this year's cutting is well underway. The range of products direct from the woodland are becoming pretty well established with binders and stakes for hedge laying, bean poles, plant supports and fencing poles the main products this year.
Over the past year our woodland has been used by Tom, an MSc student from Keele University, for his research. His study aimed to determine whether coppicing really does increase the biodiversity in a broad leaved woodland. His study confirms that this is undoubtedly the case in our woodland. Its nice to have science confirm what you believed to be the case, and support someone so interested in woodland management.
Alongside the work in the coppice the workshop is still a very busy place. Getting stock in place after the Christmas rush is my main aim at the moment but hopefully I will be concentrating on chairs again soon.
The run of very cold winter weather has led me to spend more time in the inside workshop over the last few days. the workshop has been far from warm though as it is unheated apart from a small radiant heater so thermals have been very much the name of the game.
I have been concentrating on getting some stools , of all sorts done plus finishing off the last double bow windsor chair. I took delivery of a few tools this week which I purchased with money from a grant which was awarded to me by the Heritage Craft Association. Over the last couple of weeks I have had a lot of interest about the chairs I make and hopefully soon a couple of these enquiries will turn into some orders.
The new tools are working well but like all hand tools you need to get to know them , the joy of hand tools is the mastery of each tool in different circumstances, this can only be achieved by hours of use, many people buy tools and are often disappointed as they rarely bring the results that the buyer wishes for. I often compare it to playing a musical instrument , the quality of the music is related to the amount of hard work and practise put in over many years.
We started to work this years section of coppice a little earlier this winter. As the area we are cutting is back in rotation the products coming out are ideal for hedge layers wanting stakes and binders.
I had received an order for some products required before Christmas so i set on and did these in late November and have subsequently received further orders which i have worked through and hope to have all of these orders complete in a week or so.
The weather has been either very cold or very wet this winter but the work keeps you nice and warm! We are conscious of some of the areas being extremely water logged so tread lightly to minimise any damage to the woodland floor.
The sense of pride in doing this work is tremendous, to think this woodland was reaching the "derelict" stage and is now a thriving coppice woodland again is one of our greatest achievements. The sense of anticipation to see what natural regeneration appears, what flora and fauna emerge is great.
It is also a real joy to know that the products this year are going to help other rural businesses as they carry out their cyclical work on the hedgerows. There will be very little left once the orders are complete but enough to keep some gardeners happy with bean poles and pea sticks.
Work in the workshop is also still continuing, i am trying to recharge the stock after the busy Christmas period and i am hoping to get Julie's chair started in the not too distant future.
From the way life is at the moment I think my reliance on website sales will be the name of the game over the next few months, many of my events have already been cancelled in the spring but we are hoping that things may improve with these later in the year.
Over the last few days I have received some welcome news from the Heritage Craft Association HCA). I applied for a grant designed to help businesses like mine become more resilient. The grant I received will go towards some tools to make my Windsor chairmaking better and more efficient. I see the chair making side of what I do becoming the mainstay of my business over the coming years. I would like acknowledge the money for the grant was provided by the Association of Pole Lathe Turners and Green Woodworkers.
I also took part in the first Zoom meeting of The Midlands and Marches local HCA group. This was a great opportunity to meet a range of craftspeople, all of whom share a real passion for what they do and share a common belief in keeping traditional skills alive and relevant today.
One thing I learned at the meeting was the importance of having an "online presence". This is something I find quite difficult but I am more determined than ever to dedicate much needed time to this in the future.
Between now and Christmas I am working at full pelt. I have some cracking events lined up and it is great having the chance to meet people face to face again. I am retraining my legs in preparation for the pole lathe turned "snowman rush". This coupled with orders for products direct from the coppice mean lots of time spent on the tools and the place I cherish most!
The whole reason why we do what we do is to ensure the future of our woodland. Our patch of paradise is classed as Ancient Semi Natural Woodland which means by definition it has been under continuous tree cover since 16th Century. We believe that our woodland dates back much longer than that but it is difficult to prove. One thing we do know is from the amount of ancient woodland indicator species we have within the woodland it is very , very old!
Although the woodland is old it has also been worked and managed for centuries. Coppicing is the oldest form of woodland management and is the process of cutting a given area , allowing the trees to regrow and then re cutting after a given number of years. The time between cutting depended very much on the species and the end use of the poles that were being cut, hazel for example would be cut every 10-12 years , Alder could be much longer again depending on the end use.
This cycle of cutting, re growing and then cutting leads to a build up of unique and precious flaura and fauna which is bespoke to a coppice woodland.
All of our efforts over the last 11 years has gone into bringing this coppice cycle back, after a gap of over 80 years. The way the woodland has responded is wonderful, the biodiversity increases every year. the woodland flowers coming back stronger and stronger, the associated wildlife also comes back, from the smallest insect all the way to the wonderful if destructive deer population. The deer are attracted by the lush regrowth in the coppice, a bit like me in a cake shop!
The workover the last 11 years has been hard, at times costly but you can really see the improvements and I get inspired every time I set foot in there. This last winter we re-cut the first area which we did 10 years ago, this coming winter we will be re-cutting the second area and so on until its time for us to stop!
Hopefully when we reach the point where we have to hand the wood on to the next generation the neglect that the woodland suffered for so long will have completely healed but in the meantime we will enjoy every second we spend in there
After what seems like an age and hours of work , frustration, trial and error Julie has finally got our on line shop working on the web site! For some this may not seem like a big deal but for us it is a major step forward, to be honest it all leaves me miles behind. Give me an axe or turning tool and I am fine, give me a computer screen and I am like a rabbit in headlights.
The COVID pandemic has changed the World and we have to change with it to keep viable. All of the sales over the last few months have been made via social media and by word of mouth. I am extremely fortunate to have a great set of friends on social media who have supported us and helped us by sharing what we do. To these friends we are extremely grateful.
Part of the future must include selling more products over the internet. I miss the social side of the events I do and I am sure these will come back in due time but we have to move with the times.
In the future I am also hoping that by utilising the website more it will give me the time I need to continue to develop my work with Windsor Chairs. The interest in these is growing quite quickly and the enjoyment I get out of making then is second to none.
Part of my new routine in my working week is also to allow me a certain amount of time to keep the website up to date and changing, putting on new posts which chart our exciting and never dull lives doing what we love.
No photos today but next weeks blog will highlight an exciting opportunity for our woodland.
There is no such thing as a typical week or even a typical day for me. even before the lockdown and its implications life has been a right mixture.
At the moment I am trying to fulfil orders as they come in, plates, yarn bowls, jewelery boxes have all been ordered over the last few days and as I am not doing any demonstrations or shows I can give some relatively quick lead times which is not always the case an I am relying very heavily on the Post Office who it must be said are really coming up with the service.
So apart from making orders, this week has seen a day chopping firewood with my mate Chris ; preparing the charcoal kiln, delivering some bean poles to a friend and then yesterday we had a day in the wood where we spent most of the day tidying up the around some deer fences and trying to control the ever rampant bramble! This plus a large amount of bacon cooked on the fire led to a really lovely day
Just as we arrived in the woodland we heard a massive tearing and crashing sound in the "new wood". After a few minutes of searching we came across the massive oak limb which had fallen of a tree. It was an eerie thing, although we were nowhere near the tree it certainly makes you think what would have happened if we were closer.
The next few days will continue with the interesting mix, more yarn bowls tomorrow followed by the jewellery boxes, I have four meetings to attend via Skype or other such technological means which i find freaky but a neccesary part of life.
Despite the use of modern communication methods I do miss the social side of what I do. The interaction of people at events is very stimulating, interesting and often very ,very, funny. I am hoping things allow some of the events to open up towards the end of the year but my fear is that it may be next year before this happens.
Time will tell
After a long delay I have finally got round to re starting my blog. The World has changed considerably since the last one, I am having to change with it. Computers, Blogs and all the rest of this sort of stuff does not come easy to me but I just have to man up!
The late winter was spent coppicing the area we first worked when we bought the wood, its the end of the first coppice cycle and is extremely rewarding. Hopefully the wood will kick on again now. The woodland just gets on with growing and becomes even more beautiful every time we visit.
The rest of the winter and early spring has been devoted to improving my chairmaking skills. A good friend of mine and chair making Master Craftsman Jim Steele invited me to his workshop to help me develop. His help has been immeasurable and since the lockdown our regular phone calls have been an inspiration.
Making chairs, good chairs is a skill hard won. The chairs I made before were OK, some would say good, but after making a few changes here and there and learning to be less prescriptive and more "free" in the making process has led me to make a couple of chairs far better than previous, in fact far better than I would have imagined possible.
Taking all of this into consideration though, they are time consuming, they test you, but the feeling of getting 20 plus hand made components to fit together to make the final chair, for it to be comfortable and look nice is something else! Going forward I hope chairs will become a much larger proportion of my sales but time will tell and people will soon tell me if they like them.
All of the events I do are being cancelled one-by-one way into the future. I miss the social interaction, the laughs with customers, friends I meet regularly at the events and the public who come and watch me on the pole lathe when I am demonstrating. Everything will return back to normal soon enough, in the meantime I am trying to keep in touch with as many people as I can either through this Blog, Facebook or Instagram so if you see me about on one of these platforms please say hello.