Wood Centre abuzz with first woodworking course

posted on April 29, 2016

Last Saturday we hosted our first woodworking course at the Sylva Wood Centre.  The course was organised on behalf of the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group.

Course tutor Matt Mercy uses locally-grown western red cedar and larch for his hives, so the course chimed perfectly with Sylva’s principles of using more sustainably-grown wood products.  Matt helped 14 students to make Warré hives.  These types of hives are favoured in ‘natural beekeeping’ for their high level of insulation and a ‘chimney effect’, which keeps the bees warmer than some other hive types. Also the hive boxes have shuttered window inserts which allow for non-intrusive observations of bee colony activity and health.

Oxford Natural Beekeeping Group workshop at the Sylva Wood Centre

Oxford Natural Beekeeping Group workshop at the Sylva Wood Centre, April 2016

‘Natural beekeeping’ covers a spectrum of approaches to keeping bees which encompass bee-centric, low intervention, chemical-free methodologies. This is a holistic approach that facilitates natural bee behaviours and promotes bee health through providing healthy hive environments and allowing for natural selection of robust ‘hygienic’ gene pools.

Matt Mercy, course Tutor, said:

“I was very impressed with the facilities provided and would highly recommend the Sylva Wood Centre to other tutors”.

Paul Honigmann on behalf of the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group said:

“many, many thanks for organising our course at the Sylva Wood Centre.  Everyone left happy and smiling and with something physical they’d made – and for several, the event was their first face to face meeting with other natural beekeepers – a great day for all”.

Read more on the website of the Oxfordshire Natural Beekeeping Group.

Are you a woodwork tutor? Please contact Paul Orsi if you are interested in running a woodworking course at the Sylva Wood Centre.



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Welcome to lifestyle woodworker Paul Sellers

posted on March 22, 2016
Paul Sellers lifestyle woodworker

Paul Sellers lifestyle woodworker

We are delighted to welcome Paul Sellers as our latest business at the Sylva Wood Centre.

Paul Sellers is an internationally-renowned woodworking teacher and a leading advocate for his craft, reaching many thousands of people by recording instructional videos of woodworking techniques. Although Paul has earned a living as a woodworker, he refers to himself as an ‘amateur woodworker’ because he still does it primarily for love of the craft.

Paul is currently occupying the teaching workshop in the main building at the Wood Centre but we are in discussions to build a dedicated workshop for Paul on the current site of the Grain Store.

Paul’s workshop at the Sylva Wood Centre is not open to the public but he is planning to have regular open days where visitors are welcome. The first opportunity to visit will be Artweeks (14th-22nd May). To receive notifications about subsequent open days click here.

Welcoming Paul Sellers, Sylva’s CEO Gabriel Hemery said:

“Paul’s arrival is a significant step forwards in our plans for supporting teaching and education in woodworking design and craft at the Sylva Wood Centre. It is has been wonderful see how quickly Paul and his team have settled among our community of woodworkers.

Paul Sellers commented:

“Moving to the Abingdon area has meant new beginnings for the woodworking school and our filming studio and workshop. The Sylva Foundation kindly offered workspace at the Wood Centre in Long Wittenham to set up our base, which means we have found several new friends working as artisans all in one location. I am looking forward to seeing the work Sylva is involved in and watching their plans and vision unfold. A big thank you to Gabriel Hemery and Paul Orsi of the Sylva Foundation for their hospitality and for welcoming us to the area.”

Essential Woodworking Hand Tools by Paul Sellers

Essential Woodworking Hand Tools by Paul Sellers

Paul has just released a new book Essential Woodworking Hand Tools, which was written to pass on not only his knowledge of tools but his enjoyment of them. It helps anyone to make good choices in purchasing, sharpening, and beginning to use the tools that you need to build things from wood. We are delighted to announce that Paul will be one of four authors speaking at the inaugural WoodWords™ literary evening on 14th May . Tickets are now available for this fundraising event. Read more and book online

Read more about Paul Sellers:

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Unit available at the Sylva Wood Centre

posted on February 25, 2016

A unit is available to rent from the Sylva Foundation by any business connected with designing or making with wood.

Tenants at the Sylva Wood Centre are part of a vibrant community of woodworkers, enjoying excellent specialist facilities. They also benefit from the growing profile of the charity, for example by taking part in annual events such as Oxfordshire Artweeks and other public events.

Unit available April 2016

Unit available April 2016


  • Available from April.
  • Size of unit: 450 sq ft / 42 m2 (Dimensions: 9.6 x 4.4m)
  • Additional outdoor covered space available (optional): 500 sq ft/46 m2
  • Large roller-shutter door access to outside.
  • Access to well-equipped Machinery Workshop, including panel saw, planer, thicknesser and band saw.
  • Internal double door access to community space.
  • Access to community kitchen. Toilets and Shower.

Find out more about the Sylva Wood Centre:

To talk through your requirements, contact Paul Orsi

Thinking of starting a new business? We support new wood-related businesses through our incubation facilities. Please contact us to find out more.


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New offices for the Sylva Foundation

posted on February 19, 2016

We are excited to announce that the Sylva Foundation will be moving its offices to a new purpose-designed timber building at the Sylva Wood Centre.

Ever since our formation as a charity in 2009 we have been based in the village of Little Wittenham in south Oxfordshire. Following the gift of land in the nearby village of Long Wittenham, and with early developments of the Wood Centre now well underway, we felt that 2016 would be the right time to relocate our office. Our headquarters will be at the heart of the Sylva Wood Centre, and there our staff will be part of the community of craftspeople supported by our Start-Up facilities and running their wood businesses.

Benfield ATT

Benfield ATT

The Sylva Lodge—as it will be known—is a wooden low-energy building designed by South Wales timber building specialists Benfield ATT. Naturally it has been constructed with timber, most of which is home-grown, and all sourced from sustainably-managed forests.

Talking about the building Professor Michael Benfield—Director of Benfield and the inaugural Chair of Wood Knowledge Wales—said:

“I am delighted that the Sylva Foundation selected to work with our company to build their new offices. This confirms our joint aspirations to stimulate a vibrant forestry and wood industry”.

Benfield ATT sourced high-quality Douglas fir from Gloucestershire and sent it to Cilfiegan Sawmill, near Usk in Monmouthshire, to be milled from the log and cut to the desired lengths for the build. The photos below work underway at the Benfield ATT workshops.


We will be following progress of the build over the next few weeks, and plan to move in to the Sylva Lodge by mid April.


Our new address (from April 2016) will be:

Sylva Wood Centre
Long Wittenham
OX14 4QT

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Wolverhampton University students visit Arboreal building

posted on February 18, 2016
Wolverhampton University architecture students visit the Arboreal competition building

Wolverhampton University architecture students visit the Arboreal competition building

Another university group visited the Sylva Wood Centre this week to work on the third National Student Design Competition organised by TRADA, through its successful University Engagement Programme (UEP). Named Arboreal for 2016 the project will see students tasked with designing a brand new flagship timber structure named Arboreal at the Sylva Wood Centre in south Oxfordshire.

arboreal logo

TRADA 2016 Arboreal competition

They were given a tour of the Wood Centre and Sylva CEO Gabriel Hemery explained more about future plans for the whole site. The students took the opportunity to take photographs and note details of the building and its local environment.

The deadline for entries is June 3rd 2016, with a shortlist produced shortly after. There will be a final judging event in early July and an awards ceremony in autumn where the winners will be announced.

Read more about Arboreal

Category: WOOD
Tags: ,

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University groups start Arboreal challenge

posted on February 1, 2016
Arboreal competition - Coventry University

Architectural students and tutors visit the Sylva Wood Centre to work on the Arboreal project.

arboreal logo

TRADA 2016 Arboreal competition

University groups across Britain are starting work on the third National Student Design Competition organised by TRADA, through its successful University Engagement Programme (UEP). Named Arboreal for 2016 the project will see students tasked with designing a brand new flagship timber structure named Arboreal at the Sylva Wood Centre in south Oxfordshire.

This weekend architecture technology students and tutors from Coventry University visited the Sylva Wood Centre. They spoke with Sylva CEO Gabriel Hemery to learn more about the charity’s plans for the whole site, and took the opportunity to take photographs and measurements of the building that it is the subject of the competition.

Read more about Arboreal

Category: WOOD
Tags: ,

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Plaque celebrates support from Grown in Britain for innovative cladding

posted on November 11, 2015

As regular readers will know, we were the proud recipients of innovative thermally-modified hardwood cladding earlier this year when we opened our first building at the Sylva Wood Centre. The cladding featured on BBC Countryfile and has attracted a great deal of interest: read the full story.

The costs of the cladding were met partly by a grant provided by Grown in Britain; the material supplied by Tyler Hardwoods. This week we were pleased to receive a handsome plaque using the same thermally-modified timber; this time made from a board of sycamore complete with decorative fiddleback figure (commonly used in violins and other string instruments). The laser-engraved plaque, which has been erected near the entrance to our first building at the Wood Centre, celebrates the close working relationship between the Sylva Foundation and Grown in Britain.

Grown in BritainWe are indebted to Grown in Britain and Tyler Hardwoods for their support.

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Research into hardwood timber supplies in UK construction

posted on November 9, 2015

Grown in BritainAs part of an Innovate UK-funded project, we are working with Grown in Britain, the Building Research Establishment (BRE), English Woodlands Timber and others in the timber supply chain on a project looking at hardwood timber supplies in UK construction.

Specifically we would like to gather information from processors, suppliers and customers, about what applications hardwood timber is specified for within the construction industry, and where known, what species are being specified/purchased. We would also like to know your thoughts generally on UK-grown hardwood.

The link below will take you to a very short survey that should take you no more than 5 minutes to complete:

If you know anyone else who would be able to answer these questions, please feel free to forward this to them.

Thank you in advance for your time; we appreciate your valuable input into this project.

Category: WOOD
Tags: , ,

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Students visit Wood Centre

posted on October 5, 2015

Last week we were pleased to welcome staff and 19 students undertaking their second year studies for the Foundation Degree (FdA) at Rycotewood Furniture Centre, Oxford City College.

Sylva Foundation CEO Gabriel Hemery explained the vision of the Sylva Wood Centre, which aims to foster enterprise and to support innovation in wood.

Many of the tenants were on hand to talk about their careers and how they started their own journey in working with wood.

Photos: Rycotewood Furniture Centre, Oxford City College

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Philip Koomen appointed as special advisor

posted on
Philip Koomen, Sylva Foundation

Philip Koomen, Furniture and Wood Special Advisor, Sylva Foundation

Designer-maker Dr Philip Koomen has been appointed as the Sylva Foundation’s Furniture and Wood Special Advisor.

Talking about his voluntary appointment Philip Koomen commented:

“I have been involved in the work of the Sylva Foundation since advising the charity in its ground-breaking OneOak project (2009-12). Since then I have been pleased to help the foundation shape the vision and direction of its Wood programme, which came to life in 2015 with the opening of the Sylva Wood Centre. The charity’s work is in line with my own professional practice and vital if we are to foster a new generation of designer-makers using home-grown and other sustainable timbers. I am therefore really delighted to take up the role of Furniture and Wood Special Advisor.”

At the age of 22, Philip set up his first professional workshop at his parents’ home in Henley-on-Thames in 1975, having studied Furniture Design & Technology at Buckinghamshire College. He moved to his current workshop at Wheelers Barn in Checkendon, South Oxfordshire in 1984.

Philip’s vocational path was inspired by the teachings of the Baha’i Faith. He is committed to a sustainable approach to furniture design that celebrates wood and contributes to a greater understanding of our environmental responsibilities. Furthermore, he is dedicated to providing training for aspiring designer-makers; many past members have since set up their own workshops in Britain, Canada, Ireland, Sweden, Germany and Australia.

Philip and his team have produced the equivalent of over 120 years of furniture for private and institutional clients, including the stage furniture for the Hay Festival, the choir stalls for Dorchester Abbey and various overseas clients, including the international investment bank Fidelity. He has recently been commissioned by Oxford University to design and make a range of furniture for the new Blavatnik School of Government.

Philip earned a PhD in Sustainable Furniture Design from Brunel University. His doctoral research included the creation of a local cycle, sourcing and processing non-commercial timber from local estates. The resulting furniture was showcased in the touring exhibition Out of the Woods: a Sustainable Approach to Furniture Design that began at the River Rowing Museum, Henley in 2004, and “affirmed his status as one of the finest craftsmen in wood in Britain today.” BBC Homes & Antiques, 2004.

He has been awarded several fellowships, including a life fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts. In 2004 he was amongst a select group of designers invited to Buckingham Palace to celebrate the contribution of the design industry to the nation in recognition of “excellence in design”. In 2014 he was awarded a prestigious Arts Council grant to research his creative practice. The outcomes formed part of his “retrospective” exhibition, Forest to Furniture: Ideas in the Making, at the River Rowing Museum, shown this year. He also initiated and co-organised a successful symposium and public event, Ideas in the Making, on the nature of creativity at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History for over 1500 visitors.

Philip regularly exhibits, lectures and judges at design forums and academic institutions including Singapore,Thailand, Vietnam, Mexico, France, Belgium, Dubai, USA and UK.

Philip Koomen’s website:

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