I have always enjoyed being outdoors with nature. At University I studied Botany and went into horticulture. Then I started exploring Greenwood crafts in my mid 20s working with Hazel and then with Willow. I began my training at the ‘Weekend in the woods’ in Cumbria with the likes of Bill Hogarth.
Early days of Sylvan Skills:
We originally set up the business in 1994. We were helped from a government support scheme which encouraged us to write a business plan and open a business account after which we received money every week for a year. I chose ‘Sylvan Skills’ as it tripped off the tongue easily, using two words with the same initial letter.
I remember our first job was supplying coppice poles to Bede’s world not long after it opened. We had the support of the ‘Great North Forest’, and made use of willow from the newly planted Gateshead Garden Festival site and also from Chopwell forest.
In 2001, as a result of the foot-and-mouth crisis, we received funding for a website and became more connected digitally.
I gradually acquired more basketry skills through working with various colleagues who are also members of The Basket Makers’ association, such as Liz Balfour, and Julie Gurr.
I also benefitted from attending Northumbria Basketry group courses and going on placements in other parts of Europe such as Sweden, Slovakia, Cyprus and the Azores.
Willow and Greenwood Artist
About my work:
I enjoy the fact that my work is quite varied. I like being out in the woods cutting coppice for raw materials. But I also enjoy teaching groups and helping people to be creative.
I also enjoy making products in the workshop and getting into “the zone”.
I like working in a team with other people, so my skills are complemented by those of other people.
There are many reasons for doing the work that I do including working outside, maintaining a heritage skill, enjoying the creative process and enabling others to be creative. I enjoy the informal work environment that is flexible and enables me to change the direction of my work to adapt to changing circumstances.
How I fill my days during the current pandemic:
I have recently begun to make more products for sale working jointly with John Rutherford a local blacksmith, and have also learnt how to make willow coffins. These new activities complement my continuing long-standing love of coppicing and hurdle making. I look forward to continuing this willow journey of discovery !