And a site it was just one year ago. Looking through a wired-off rectangle of waste land covered with old rubble from former construction work, I wondered to myself, “Could this ugly land be home to the work we want to progress quickly into the future?”
Progress comes at a price and one part of the price is the hope that you feel a sense of permanence and solidity in what you hope to achieve. Since my early days in leaving England in 1987, I have lived and moved with a sense of permanent temporariness in my status and then too, my workshops as well. Mostly things like a country and a state, land and workshops can somehow feel that they belong always to someone else. At my age, it’s good not to own too much because decluttering down to the essentials carries more worth and this alone becomes very freeing.
There’s something about putting roots down that I seem always to have mostly avoided. I think it was in 2016 I began to wonder what it would be like if no one could tell you, you ever needed to move again. So you will forgive me, but my five-year plan for teaching and training woodworkers into the future is about to become our five year plan; a period where anyone of any age anywhere in the world can join us to build their future. For over 25 years, over and above my working as a full-time furniture maker and designer, I have trained 6,000 woodworkers hand tool woodworking through hands-on workshops. We now reach hundreds of thousands. It is a no-brainer to restructure our future because this is the way I hope to continue preserving my craft.
Our plans include the need for two permanent buildings and the key one is now slotted right into place. Here is the settledness we feel we can nurture and grow the work we do in. The workshop is and always will be the core centre to our work. Working from here makes everything real and of course, the filming, research, creation and development can take place anytime, come rain or shine. In the upcoming episodes of this blog, I will be sharing more of our long-term vision.
As it’s in a science park, with the restrictions as to extraneous noise being more stringent, we anticipate that our video work will go on uninterrupted at last. Here we can expand into reasonable workspace and we will be able to breathe! Asking six people to go into silent mode as we film for an hour is not so easy an ask but everyone in the office was super compliant and we made it through the last 20 months. That said, in so tight a confinement and being in such close proximity to the camera work, a pin dropping can indeed seem like an ‘I-beam’ on steel construction site.
Though we are cramped, we have two more people joining the team in the next few weeks. Something had to give so we are really just a couple of weeks away from the big move. We’ll be filming the transitioning to keep you involved but I have been packing tools into plastic totes for three months every time I have an hour or two spare. I am actually done with my bit. Next, it will be the office and filming equipment!
Since the new building started we have made many complex pieces with the intermingling of simpler pieces for our newer and younger members. I hope that the many participants can understand that the simple pieces are equally important. I have designed them and made and taught them for training and teaching members who are of course of every age. I do see feedback where some members take issue over the length of complex projects and then the same too when we bring in simpler ones too. The nature of the complaints varies of course, but we discuss all the projects as a team to provide quality content of value and we do our best to keep everyone on a learning curve, otherwise, we become exclusive and that will never happen. So part of our reason for moving is to accommodate a more immersive training with more work available for free via YouTube.
Expanding the tent pegs
Our conditions are cramped by any office standards and when you think that I work opposite this by only a few feet you begin to see that something had to give. We need space. To increase productivity so that I can achieve my goal in this lifetime we need at least the two more people we are about to take on. I am drawing all the drawings, developing designs, prototyping, writing, presenting and much more and even though I love it, it has become evident that we need more help. We interviewed this past week for a researcher/educator to work alongside me and those making the content; help is indeed on its way. Our guys have never once complained by the way.
A practical solution
I suppose in some ways it would have been nice to have a timber-framed structure for the workshop and studio but practically this would not work for us because of the time constraints we are under. The inside does look like what it is, a steel building with insulated cladding to keep us quiet, warm and free from light pollution.
Inside this superstructure, we meet with our architect Maya and the construction crew leader to complete our plans for a new workshop studio this week and we are so looking forward to it. We have not missed a step as far as being in full production but we have had some pretty daunting opposition from time to time. Most weeks I visit the site to check on progress. It’s a quiet place in that it faces a nature preserve and footpath-cycle path that takes you 8 miles on into Oxford. Behind us is the leisure/sports complex and so we feel it will make a wonderful new home for us. We will be just 1 mile from the market town where I live.