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Due to Covid-19, we have reduced personnel at the offices of the Sylva Foundation and our premises at the Sylva Wood Centre. Emails and phone messages are being checked but please allow a little longer than usual to receive a response. Please do not arrange a formal visit without first checking with us. Members of the public are free to enjoy our network of permitted paths through the Future Forest as usual.
Matt Estlea – craftsperson-in-residence at the Sylva Wood Centre (2017-18)
Instead of following the traditional approach of making a living from furniture making, Matt has begun exploring the potential of mixing his interests, woodworking and videography, into something that builds an online brand for himself. He runs build-alongs, tutorials and ‘Tool Duels’ on YouTube drawing from both his 5 years experience at Rycotewood, and being an employee at Axminster Tools & Machinery for 4 years. This has given him a unique position in not only understanding the specifications and selling points of tools, but also how to use them to their best potential in a practical environment.
Talking about taking up craftsperson-in-residence at the Sylva Wood Centre Matt said:
“On leaving Rycotewood, many students say that they miss the communal aspects of the workshop. Moving to Sylva was a natural progression for me where I could enjoy my own space yet still enjoy the benefits of being surrounded by a creative and inspiring community.”
We are delighted to welcome our latest tenant to the Sylva Wood Centre, particularly as it heralds a new level of collaboration with a local further education college.
Rycotewood craftsperson-in-residence Pete Burns, moving into the new unit at the Sylva Wood Centre
Rycotewood Furniture Centre, part of City of Oxford College, has appointed a Craftsperson-in-Residence. Pete Burns, who also runs his own small business Pete Burns Furniture, will be based at the Sylva Wood Centre. He will be facilitating collaboration between Sylva Foundation and the college, and will supervise students while working among the community at the Wood Centre.
Drew Smith, Learning Manager, Rycotewood Furniture Centre said:
“Rycotewood is very excited to be building a rewarding relationship with the Sylva Foundation. The initiation of the Rycotewood Craftsperson-in Residence role, and the opportunity to exhibit our students’ work at this year’s Artweeks, confirms the start of an ongoing collaboration.”
Rycotewood and Pete Burns will be exhibiting at the Sylva Wood Centre during ArtWeeks 2016, alongside other artists and craftspeople. Why not come along between 14-22 May, including both weekends. Read more
Our Head of Wood School, Joseph Bray, writes about his recent experience completing a Churchill Fellowship exploring furniture education in the US and Scandinavia.
Download Joseph Bray’s report for the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust: The Future of Furniture Craft Education
This time last year I was returning from the first leg of my Churchill travelling fellowship where I visited a wide range of institutions offering high quality furniture education in the USA and Europe. I set out to explore how furniture craft skills were delivered and how these programmes supported graduates to bridge the gap between education and professional life. It was a truly inspirational experience that has taught me so much about the shared issues we face as well as some amazing examples of best practice.
My key recommendations are to:
Establish inspirational opportunities for young people to experience making
Integrate rigorous professional practice into craft education
Stimulate collaboration locally, nationally and internationally
I started the fellowship while I was the programme leader of the Furniture Design and Make BA degree course at Rycotewood in Oxford and now I am heading up our growing Sylva Wood School. We have plans to offer a unique programme that aims to develop craft skills through commercial batch production, create a business development programme, and build on the success of our first summer school in collaboration with Grown in Britain. These activities are all aimed at helping to bridge the gap between education and the world beyond – I am very pleased to be able to put some of my findings into practice.
An important principle of a Churchill Fellowship is to share the findings with your community on your return. I have completed a report, ‘The future of furniture craft education’ and this is freely available and can be downloaded here.
Future of Furniture Craft Education: key recommendations
Earlier this year the Sylva Foundation approached Grown in Britain (GiB) to collaborate on a project to promote the potential of under-utilised home-grown timber aiming to inspire innovation and creativity. Students and recent graduates from Rycotewood, the renowned furniture college in Oxford, were asked to explore the potential of Douglas-fir and Alder for furniture making. To add to the challenge, the Douglas-fir was kiln-dried whereas the Alder was freshly sawn, resulting in differing methods of working.
GiB CEO Dougal Driver set out a design brief that challenged the participants to think creatively and work collaboratively.
Marketing at conferences and shows can mean many journeys up and down the country often end up with a car boot full of pull-up banners, folding tables, and plastic leaflet holders. Finding a beautiful off-the-peg solution that is easy to use and assemble, that displays marketing materials effectively and is well crafted in sustainable materials is impossible.
Your brief for this Sylva Summer School is to work exclusively with two under-utilised home-grown timber species, Douglas-fir and Alder, to design and prototype a solution. We would like you to develop a functional concept that can be dismantled easily, fits into a car for transportation, and is not too heavy to be carried by the user.
With only five days to develop a fully-functional response the group had to work at a fast pace. To kickstart the creative process they were given a talk by Sylva CEO Gabriel Hemery arguing the case for the increased use of home-grown timbers . This was followed by a tour of our workshops, timber store and recently planted ‘future forest’. There is so much to be inspired by the Sylva Wood Centre, but they were particularly taken by the ‘House of Wessex’, an Anglo-Saxon house being faithfully reconstructed using traditional methods. The day ended with a visit from furniture designer-maker Richard Williams, who gave supportive feedback on their emerging ideas. He encouraged them to explore the materials and allow that experience to inform the direction of their ideas.
The project gave everyone the opportunity to work within the professionally equipped workshops and to experience working with both timbers for the first time. They worked tirelessly all week helping each other to solve problems and making the most of the opportunity to produce three excellent solutions.
Andrew, Carina, Daisy, David and Paul collectively produced three collapsible tables with some beautiful detailing – all ready to be loaded into a car ready for the next marketing event! We are very excited about the potential of these products and of these students. They are a credit to Rycotewood and have a very bright future ahead of them.
We are very pleased to promote the project during GiB week and believe that our summer school has shone a light on under-utilised timber species that could have a very bright future. We would like to thank GiB for working with us and their member Vastern Timber for supplying the Douglas-fir. After such a successful week we plan to offer an annual summer school experience to continue to explore the potential for home-grown timber.
Tutor: Joseph Bray, Head of Wood School. Sylva Foundation
Last Wednesday evening we opened the doors of our brand new Teaching Barn to promote the vision for the Sylva Wood School.
We enjoyed showing our trustees, funders, collaborators and friends from industry around our well-equipped teaching venue and explaining future planned developments for the Wood Centre. Some of the creative businesses we host also opened up their workshops, highlighting the incredible community that has rapidly developed over the past three years – it was clear to see the potential for any students coming onto the site to learn from such a diverse range of experts.
Teaching Barn at the Sylva Wood Centre
The feedback from the evening was overwhelmingly positive. It was wonderful to see the furniture industry well-represented by Dids Macdonald and Tony Smart of the Furniture Makers Company, designer-makers Richard Williams and Philip Koomen, as well as representatives of heavyweights such as William Hands and Ercol. We look forward to further strengthening our relationship with the sector to teach and guide people into the industry.
Joseph Bray, Head of Wood School, shared his thoughts on the future of education in the wood sector focussing on the opportunities to deliver excellence in education and business enterprise.
“Schools have changed from woodwork to much broader D&T and over the past 10 years the decline in entries to GCSE has reduced by well over 50% The emphasis of these courses has significantly moved away from making! Colleges offering vocational furniture training can almost be counted on one hand and University level craft programmes have declined significantly some closing workshops and some closing all together. Often graduates are pushed out into the world with varying levels of support and guidance.
“An exception to the rule is our close neighbour Rycotewood in Oxford. We hope to enhance our close relationship continuing to work closely with staff, students and graduates.
“The future can feel bleak, however we exist outside the formal education system and as a creative and flexible organisation we are able to offer a range of programmes that will plug some of the gaps. We plan to build a schools programme for those unable to access making on the school curriculum. We will provide workshops and skills training to students who cannot access this at college or University and we will continue the excellent work already started in providing support for graduates within the community of creative enterprises that make up our site.”
Joseph Bray, Head of Sylva Wood School
Joe with Dids and Tony of the Furniture Makers company
Joseph is midway through an inspiring Churchill Fellowship, travelling to world-renowned institutions delivering furniture craft education in USA and Europe. He is investigating how they continue to support students to learn craft skills in light of the challenges within the education sector and how students are supported on graduation. This experience is especially helpful at this stage of the development of our Wood School. He is off to Europe in March and we look forward to hearing what he has learnt on his return.
We are currently delivering a programme of weekend courses using some excellent external tutors as we build up to the launch of a range courses in the summer and beyond – watch this space for some exciting opportunities. Read more
Sylva Foundation is very grateful to the following funders for their support in constructing and furnishing the Teaching Barn: Aspen Trust, D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust, Oxfordshire LEADER, People’s Postcode Lottery, Shanly Foundation.
Our recently-appointed Head of Wood School, Joseph Bray, introduces himself and his new role with Sylva Foundation.
I began my career in the furniture industry in 2000, as a designer and craftsman with Richard Williams. My role progressed from junior craftsman to production coordinator giving me an introduction to the diversity of the industry whilst working on bespoke projects for private clients. Prior to this I studied furniture design and craftsmanship at Buckinghamshire Chilterns University and I went back to complete a masters in furniture design, graduating with distinction in 2010.
At an early stage I knew I wanted to teach and, benefiting from a very supportive employer, I undertook some teacher training and worked at Rycotewood providing one-to-one woodwork for autistic young adults. This valuable experience ultimately led me to make the transition between industry and education, taking up a full-time role as a teacher across the full range of programmes at Rycotewood.
In 2010, I took responsibility for course leadership of the Foundation degree and BA Hons programmes. I successfully led the validation of the degrees with two university partners; Bucks New University in 2010 and Oxford Brookes University in 2015. Students and graduates have been incredibly successful, winning national awards, bursaries, and residencies.
My particular interest is in developing industrial partnerships leading to live projects, study trips, work experience, internships, and sponsorship for students. Recent collaborations include live projects with AHEC (American Hardwood Export Council) exploring the characteristics of red oak, designing public seating for the RAF museum – London, as part of the 100-year anniversary, and live briefs with furniture manufacturers Ercol and William Hands.
My current research interest is to understand better how to upskill furniture graduates making them more employable – considering how to bridge the gap between education and professional life. I have been successful in an application for funding and was announced as a Churchill Fellow in 2018. I will travel initially to USA in autumn visiting the Centre for Furniture Craftsmanship, North Bennett Street School, Rhode Island School of Design and Rochester Institute of Technology. Further travel to prestigious European institutions will follow in spring 2019. A report will be published in 2019 sharing the knowledge gained and recommendations for improving the education system here in the UK.
I am a member of the Society of Designer Craftsmen and have served on the council since 2008 – I am currently responsible for the production of their quarterly newsletter. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
I am passionate about making, and very excited to get stuck into my new role, with Sylva Foundation, which for the first year I will be taking up while also continuing part-time with Rycotewood. My main responsibility is the development of the new Sylva Wood School, and in time I will play a lead role in supporting the delivery of training and courses. I’ll also play a key part ensuring the development of the Sylva Wood Centre as a beacon for best practice.
The Future of Forestry was this week’s theme on the BBC Radio 4 flagship environmental programme Costing the Earth.
BBC Costing The Earth
The main question posed was whether Britain could revive its forestry and provide for more of its own needs.
BBC reporter Tom Heap came to interview Sylva’s CEO Gabriel Hemery at the Sylva Wood Centre. He also spoke with one of our resident furniture makers Jan Waterston, our current craftsperson-in-residence in partnership with Rycotewood Furniture Centre. The programme also featured Stuart Goodall from Confor, and Matt Larsen-Daw from the Woodland Trust.
Our plans to support more business incubation, apprentices and work placements at the Sylva Wood Centre took a step forward this week, thanks to the generous loan of seven quality work benches.
The benches have been provided on long-term loan by Rycotewood Furniture Centre at City of Oxford College. We hope that this is the first of many linkages between Sylva and the college.
The college runs various courses in furniture making, including City and Guild diploma levels 1-3, and a BA in Furniture Design and Making (read more).
A crucial next step to support business incubation and learning at the Sylva Wood Centre is setting up a space dedicated to large woodworking machinery. It is lack of access to these that is a hindrance to business entrepreneurs and emerging talent in wood working.
We are keen to talk to possible sponsors and supporters that may be able to help us bring this to reality. Possibilities may include donation of machinery, sponsoring of apprentices, or even a chance to name the workshop in your name, or that of your business.
If you share our aim in fostering emerging woodworking talent and supporting innovation in wood, we would love to hear from you.