I left school at 16 with a place at art college which I wasn’t able to take – it just wasn’t what happened on a Leeds council estate in the 1980s. I was apprenticed as an engineer, then got into joinery and worked in London for many years. I finally enrolled at Leeds college of Art in 2000 to study furniture design. In early 2010 I took the plunge and created my first range of bespoke furniture.
My pieces are usually in plywood, using intense colours and contrasting shapes. I also have a range of affordable, accessible designs for the home and hospitality markets. We have restored and refurbished what was once a dilapidated old building in Haworth, to create Damside Mill, a fully-equipped studio with gallery space to show local work. I don’t directly employ anyone, but the business has created positions for several workers, and the studio classes we run provide work for professional tutors.
We took equity out of our house to allow me the space and funds to develop the range and show it at the TENT London tradeshow in 2011. The Creative Industry Finance programme was an opportunity to really build the business. Exhibitions are a real catalyst for our sales, offering great exposure to the design world. this loan means we can take on a second show in 2014 and develop internationally. The recognition by the Arts Council that we are a valid and sustainable business means a lot to us.
As well as the usual challenges, Damside caught fire just when we’d got it all up and running. We lost all our work, but we’ve started all over again bringing it back to life. I’ve completely reassessed the way I produce my furniture as a result, which has significantly increased my capacity to deliver more pieces in a year than doing every bit myself, by hand. And, dare I say it, the quality is probably even higher now. I feel immensely privileged to be able to do this for a living, as the freedom to express myself means everything to me. I still get a buzz when someone likes my work and takes the time to say so.
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