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Opening of the Sylva Teaching Barn

posted on January 22, 2019

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

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 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.


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Head of Wood School appointed

posted on September 12, 2018

Our recently-appointed Head of Wood School, Joseph Bray, introduces himself and his new role with Sylva Foundation.

Joe Bray 2018

Joe Bray, Head of Wood School

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.

Joseph Bray teaching a student

Joseph Bray teaching a student

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.

www.sylva.org.uk/wood


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