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.

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Future Forest springs to life

posted on April 23, 2017

From a bare field in January to a new growing woodland in April boasting 7,500 trees and a wildflower meadow, we reflect on four amazing months of activity with our new Forest Friends.

To the south of the Sylva Wood Centre lay a small arable field. It was too small to manage efficiently with modern farm machinery and was a relatively sterile landscape with no public access. With our passion for trees it shouted out to be planted! As we write, the first trees are coming into leaf and the wildflowers are peeping up between the grasses, and a network of paths have been created through the woodland. None of this would have been possible without help from our funders, volunteers, donors and of course all our new Forest Friends

With support from four main funders we were able to turn our vision for a demonstration ‘Future Forest’ into reality. We are very grateful to:

  • Woodland Trust
  • Trust for Oxfordshire’s Environment (TOE2) with funding from Grundon Waste Management
  • D’Oyly Carte Charitable Trust
  • Finnis Scott Foundation

The forest was divided into more than 250 plots of 25 trees, each of which was made available to sponsor by our new Forest Friends. Most of these were individuals and families who wanted to make a difference to the environment and create a lasting legacy to be passed down through generations.

Some plots were sponsored by corporate partners and we were very grateful for support from Forest Holidays, Grown in Britain, Kubota UK, North Oxford Property Services, and Rokesmith.

Thanks to additional support from TESCO and the Ernest Cook Trust we were able to dedicate an area of the Future Forest especially for schools. We invited more 700 primary school children, plus young adults from local youth groups, to each plant a tree. The funding enabled us to build a shelter and fire pit, erect a fence to exclude dogs, and pay a subsidy to help the schools recover transport costs.

We look forward to working with all our new Forest Friends to care for the Future Forest over the years to come.

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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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Innovative hardwood cladding for the Sylva Wood Centre (2)

posted on March 27, 2015

In our second feature on this story, Sylva’s CEO Gabriel Hemery talks to James Tyler of Tyler Hardwoods Ltd about an exicting new home-grown hardwood product to be installed at the Sylva Wood Centre.

Tyler Hardwoods

Tyler Hardwoods Ltd

The thermally-modified hardwood cladding will be used on the first building at the Sylva Wood Centre. The ash and sycamore cladding has been supplied by Tyler Hardwoods, sourced from woodlands in the south-west of Britain. The development of the product and its installation at the Sylva Wood Centre is supported by Grown in Britain.

Q. What are the technical aspects of the product you are suppling to the Sylva Wood Centre?

The timber supplied to the Sylva Foundation is thermally-modified English ash and sycamore, machined to a weather resistant horizontal T&G cladding board.

Q. How is wood thermally modified?

Thermally-modified timber is produced by heating timber to temperatures between 160 and 210°C in the absence of oxygen.

Thermal modification carbonizes free sugars making it less hospitable to organisms (such as wood-boring insects) that would break the timber down, which in turn makes the material more durable. The cabonizing process also thermally fixes the cell stucture making the timber less hydroscopic. This means that the structure is less likely to change shape as it takes on or looses water, therefore rendering the material more stable.

Q. What are the benefits of TM wood generally?

The technical improvements in the properties of the timber after thermal modification are significant, but there are also definite socio-economic and environmental benefits of the process for UK-grown timber, such as:
1.Providing a high value market for under-utilised hardwoods like beech, ash and sycamore.
2.Provides an economic incentive to woodland owners to bring their woodlands into management.
3.The market that the thermally modified product will create for round timber will in turn create associated jobs across the supply chain.
4.An alternative to less-sustainable tropical timbers.

Q. What is the source of the timber? Is it entirely home-grown and home-produced?

The timber for the cladding was sourced from the south-west and supplied by Tyler Hardwoods Ltd. It is either 100% FSC or FSC-controlled wood. Tyler Hardwoods have a Grown in Britain application approved and we are awaiting our audit by TRADA. The material supplied to the Sylva Wood Centre for the cladding is legally and sustainably sourced in the UK.

Currently the timber is modified in Europe as there is no thermal modification manufacturing plant in the UK. The transport to and from a plant in Europe adds significant cost, but it is important to do in order to adequately test the market, before a plant can be built in the UK.

Q. So there are plans to set up a UK thermal modification plant?

The development of the thermally-modified hardwood product is the result of a collaboration between Grown in Britain, Tyler Hardwoods Ltd, Vastern Timber and others including the BRE. We are currently conducting a feasibility study into the viability of a UK-based plant.

Q. Do you have any more of this material in stock?

Yes, we have just sent a second batch off to be treated. It includes beech and lime, as well as ash and sycamore.

Q. Tell me more about your business.

Tyler Hardwoods Ltd is a family-run business specialising in home-grown and imported hardwoods and specialist softwoods. Tyler Hardwoods also offers a specialist wood machining service including steam bending.

Tyler Hardwoods Ltd
Salisbury Road
Wilts SN8 3NE
Telephone: 01672 871300

Read more about this story

Grown in Britain

Grown In Britain






Sylva Wood Centre

Sylva Wood Centre

Category: WOOD
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First meeting at the Sylva Wood Centre

posted on March 13, 2015

Sylva Wood Centre tenants

Sylva Wood Centre people meet for the first time in the partially completed first building. Left to right: Paul Orsi (Sylva), Mary Cowdry, Rodas Irving, Simon Clements, Chris Boreham, Chris Osborne, Neil Scott, Ted Dorey.

Earlier this week the first tenants and users who will move into the Sylva Wood Centre met together for the first time.  This was a major milestone for us at Sylva and it was exciting to witness new acquitances made, and even more so when talk of collaboration and sharing soon echoed around the building site. Some users will be moving in on April 1st, with others following soon afterwards.

  • Mary Cowdry, Mary’s Chairs: has a start-up furniture restoration business, and will be taking up one of our Incubation Units.
  • Rodas Irving, Oxford Oak: specialises in outdoor furniture and small buildings using home-grown oak.
  • Simon Clements, Wood Carving and Sculpture: is taking a commercial unit and plans to run training courses.
  • Chris Boreham, Bespoke Woodwork: has a fledgling furniture business, and will be taking up one of our Incubation Units.He has already agreed to undertake work with Neil Scott to help subsidise his own making.
  • Chris Osborne, Timber Tech Global: is informally involved at present and is already mentoring some of the users.
  • Neil Scott, Neil Scott Furniture Ltd: has a successful London-based business which he is relocating to the Sylva Wood Centre.
  • Ted Dorey, is a retired master craftsman, and will be supporting our education and training activities at the centre.

Do you run a wood-based business or dream to establish one? We have some remaining space available for both commercial tenants and business start-ups who work in wood. Read more

Category: WOOD

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Innovative hardwood cladding for the Sylva Wood Centre

posted on March 11, 2015

This week we took delivery of a brand new product sourced from British forests. The thermally-modified hardwood cladding will be used on the first building at the Sylva Wood Centre. The ash and sycamore cladding was supplied by Tyler Hardwoods, and its application supported by Grown in Britain. We will be following the story of its sourcing, manufacture and application over the next few weeks.

Meanwhile here is a sneak preview of the product. Those who know their timbers will be the first to point out that neither sycamore or ash are durable outdoors, and normally would be unsuitable for cladding. However, the thermal modification process renders their timber durable. This is exciting news for these two timbers especially. Sycamore is one of our fastest growing hardwoods but often goes to low value markets such as firewood. Ash can be high value but has niche markets yet supply is anticipated to increase when ash dieback disease has full impact in our woodlands.

Innovation in timber engineering is an important step towards realising a functional bioeconomy. Watch this space for further details and future updates.


thermally-modified GB hardwood timber cladding for the Sylva Wood Centre

Thermally-modified GB hardwood timber cladding for the Sylva Wood Centre. Left and top, sycamore. Right and bottom, ash.

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Last available commercial unit available at the Sylva Wood Centre

posted on January 14, 2015

Sylva Wood Centre

Sylva Wood Centre

There remains a unique opportunity to house your wood-based business at the Sylva Wood Centre in Oxfordshire – opening Spring 2015 – with only one commercial unit remaining.

The Sylva Wood Centre is a brand new centre of excellence for Forestry and Solid Wood-based industry, dedicated to innovation in home-grown wood. Under the umbrella of the Sylva Foundation, the centre has a collection of companies making products predominately from solid wood. In time the facility will also have its own fully-equipped communal machinery workshop, teaching workshop, training/exhibition centre and reception area.

We have one unit of 93m2 (1000 sq ft) unit remaining to rent at attractive rates/terms available from April.

It is preferred that your business is focussed on making products in solid wood, such as furniture, sculpture, joinery, outdoor buildings for instance.

This is a unique opportunity in the heart of Oxfordshire to be part of this exciting development, and to be part of the wood centre community. We are keen to meet with prospective tenants, and invite expressions of interest.

Please contact us to find out more. Read more about the Sylva Wood Centre

Business Incubation for new wood-based businesses

Through the Sylva Wood Centre we also aim to foster new talent and encourage enterprise. ‘Business Incubation Units’ are available for fledgling wood-based businesses, featuring affordable subsidised rent and easy-in/easy-out flexible terms. Users will have access to the same excellent facilities available to established SMEs, and will also benefit from:

  • gaining support for your business by being part of a community of users
  • expanding your contacts and networks
  • exploring opportunities for work collaboration.

Applications are considered on an individual basis. Download application information

Category: WOOD

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Sylva Wood Centre grows from the ashes

posted on December 12, 2014

Following weeks of demolition and clearance, work on rebuilding the first of our structures at the Sylva Wood Centre is finally underway. Today the first roof panel was installed at Building No1.

Building1 roof 12Dec2014

Building1 roof 12Dec2014

This first building – an old potato store – will house four or five small medium enterprises working in wood. A large area is dedicated as a Teaching Workshop, and up to eight small units are being offered as incubation workshops aiming to help new wood businesses establish successfully.

We welcome expressions of interest, particularly from fledgling wood-based businesses.

Read more

Category: WOOD

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Ted Dorey gift to Sylva Wood Centre

posted on September 29, 2014

The Sylva Foundation has been granted a legacy by Edward (Ted) Dorey, a lifelong professional woodworker, who has also gifted an immediate donation of a substantial quantity of wood together with many lathes and other woodworking machines to the Sylva Wood Centre. Ted intends to play a central role in the Sylva Wood Centre, and will be on hand to pass on his skills to the next generation. A Teaching Workshop will be created at the centre and named after Ted.

Ted Dorey  - portrait by Gabriel Hemery

Ted Dorey – portrait by Gabriel Hemery

“I’m looking forward to working with the Sylva Foundation. There are lots of youngsters out there who want to work with their hands but there aren’t many opportunities for them now. It’s very important to keep those skills alive because we’ll never get them back if they die out.”

Ted Dorey

Ted’s life story so far, including his collaboration with the Sylva Foundation, was featured in the Henley Standard in August 2014.

Read more about the Sylva Wood Centre

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Invitation to wood businesses

posted on September 16, 2014

The Sylva Wood Centre in South Oxfordshire — dedicated to innovation in home-grown wood — will open in 2015. We are now inviting expressions of interest from existing Small and Medium Enterprises whose main business relates to wood, and from fledgling businesses.

Sylva Wood Centre

Sylva Wood Centre


Commercial Leases

Units are available to rent by small and medium enterprises whose business is related to wood.

  • Purpose-built self-contained units dedicated for use by wood-based businesses. 3 phase electrics throughout. Roller shutter access to main building. High levels of natural light.
  • Unit sizes from 145 to 2,000 square feet.
  • Excellent facilities including communal kitchen and rest room, toilets, shower, phone, internet.
  • Covered external space available to rent.
  • Access to Teaching Workshop provides opportunities for those wishing to run courses.
  • Users will benefit from joining a community of like-minded craftspeople and businesses, with the potential to share resources and collaborate, and increase the profile of their business.
  • Attractive rural location yet close to major urban centres with good transport links.

Download information sheet – you are welcome to circulate this among your contacts.

Business Incubation

Through the Wood Centre we also aim to foster new talent and encourage enterprise. ‘Business Incubation Units’ are available for fledgling wood-based businesses, featuring affordable subsidised rent and easy-in/easy-out flexible terms. Users will have access to the same excellent facilities available to established SMEs, and will also benefit from:

  • gaining support for your business by being part of a community of users.
  • expanding your contacts and networks.
  • exploring opportunities for work collaboration.

Applications are considered on an individual basis. Download application information


Category: WOOD
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