My first foray into ‘professional’ teaching was in the unlikely setting of the ski slopes of the French Alps where I found myself in a lovely little ski resort overlooking Grenoble, endeavouring to pass on the finer points of the ‘snow plough’ and attempting to perform ‘kick-turns’ without falling over, to groups of eager school children from the UK. I had decided to have a ‘Gap Year’ (which became two, or was it three?), winters were devoted to skiing and summers to sailing – which at the time seemed a quite bearable alternative to ‘work’! In an attempt to fool people that this behaviour might actually be some sort of planned career move, rather than just pure self-indulgence, I completed my Ski Instructor training and began to realise that I really enjoyed the process of teaching. (For some reason I still renew my instructor’s licence every year, maybe I think I’m going to be a ski-bum again one day!)
Having finally decided to curtail my Alpine career development, I needed to perform a fairly dramatic switch of skill-sets from skiing to woodwork After some intensive training at West Dean College, and a year spent with the highly experienced and multi-talented Bruce Luckhurst (now Chairman of BAFRA) at his school in Kent, I emerged the proud possessor of a Silver Medal, First Prize from the City & Guilds of London Institute. My workplace was transported from the crisp, clean mountain air of the Alps to the rather more interesting aromas of the East End of London.
I was settling in to the task of building a furniture business when I received a phone call one day from West Dean College, asking if I would consider teaching some short courses for them on a part-time basis, this was a great chance to escape London life for a few days every few months, and you should never pass up on an opportunity when it drops itself into your lap, should you? So once again I found myself having a wonderful time passing on information to eager students, not quite so young but just as enthusiastic, my surroundings were rather different, not the dramatic scenery of the Alps, but West Dean College is an inspiring place to work and the nearby South Downs are impressive in their own, rather unassuming, way.
During the time that I was working at West Dean, the furniture business was growing, which meant that more space was a priority, and I had developed a taste for working in the countryside so a move out of London was, perhaps, inevitable. ‘The Old Bakery’ in a small village in West Sussex was our first country premises, with the original oven doors in the bake-house forming the focal point of the workshop and the oven itself taking on the role of (rather compact) machine shop.
There was inevitably the usual inexorable quest for ‘more space’, having accumulated four members of staff in as many years, which resulted in a final (for the moment) move to a small farm a few miles away, with more space to expand both the furniture and the teaching sides of the business.
Bankside Farm Workshops
During the 15 or so years that we’ve been here, the students have grown in number, teaching having now become our main focus. In conjunction with this we have been able to develop additional workshop space for a new crop of furniture makers, some that I have had the privilege to train, to develop their flourishing businesses.