A brief look back at 2017

So far as Abbotts Living Wood was concerned, 2017 wasn’t as bad a year as everybody else seems to have experienced. From a personal point of view, my participation in a number of successful collaborative projects has given my semi-retirement a whole new direction.

Apart from one course in June, when we had to wrap up the shelter in a huge tarpaulin to protect us from a cold, wet north wind, the courses went well and are currently fully booked for the 2018 season.

A cold day in June

A cold day in June

The Exhibition at Tinsmiths celebrating Philip Clissett’s bi-centenary went OK and my talk attracted a hall full of people, who seemed to enjoy it. I didn’t sell any of my chairs though.

In October I took some chairs across the county to the amazing home of Ed & Rowena Waghorn, who’s house build claims the record as the longest build in the whole history of Channel 4’s Grand Designs. The results are absolutely stunning.

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An armchair by Ben L for Grand Designs

Hoping for a bit of product placement I took across 5 dining chairs made either by assistants or myself but I was hoping the armchair made by Benny Lawless (assistant from 2007) would catch the eye of Kevin McCloud, reminding him of his favourite episode at the build of Ben Law’s woodland house. I think there were 3 split-second glimpses of the green wood chairs but no flood of orders!

Having re-established a working relationship with Gudrun during the Clissett exhibition, we collaborated again on a weekend of activities entitled Winds of Change celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Great Storm of 1987. Our belief was that this storm marked a new awareness that wood (the most sustainable of raw materials) actually does grow on trees and can be used for a wide range of fulfilling crafts. We worked this in as part of the prestigious sculpture exhibition entitled Out of Nature, run by Jenny Watts together with Bronte Woodruff at the magnificent Newport House, north of the city of Hereford.

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This biennial exhibition raises funds for a project called The Cartshed, which provides a range of outdoor activities (including green woodwork) for local people with mental health issues.  We were fortunate to be joined by Jackie Morris, who gave an enlightening talk on Sunday about her work, writing and illustrating books, the latest being her joint work with Robert Macfarlane, the best-selling Lost Words. It was a surreal few days, with tropical balmy weather over the weekend, followed by a storm on the day of the anniversary, which hit Ireland full blast but struck Herefordshire with an unworldly red sun – seen here balanced on Jackie’s finger.

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Jackie Morris with the red sun balanced on the tip of her finger

As soon as we had we recovered from the weekend, I dived headlong into my new role as political agent for the local Green Party in a by-election campaign for the local council. When we moved here in May 1997, not only had New Labour swept to victory in the General election but we also discovered that we had a Green local councillor called Guy Woodford. Our Utopian vision was later shattered, in part by the Iraq war and in part with Guy’s defeat by the Tories in a subsequent election. So now at the age of 82, he leaped back into life in support of the new candidate, Ellie Chowns in her attempt to regain the seat for the Greens.

Beneath the pear tree

Green councilors, past and present

Ellie made for a great candidate, intelligent and articulate, with many years experience in working for underprivileged people around the world.  She was surrounded by a great team with decades of experience provided not only by Guy but also by Pete Blench who has masterminded three recent Green victories in nearby Leominster. West Midlands HQ provided support from the effervescent Peggy Wiseman, who worked long and hard to encourage the country-folk to adopt some smart, modern campaigning techniques. My job was to make sure that the word reached every household in the ward by coordinating a small army of volunteers, who appeared from every corner of the surrounding countryside to distribute election literature. Much to everybody’s astonishment, Ellie won with a substantial majority.

At 66 years old, I have spent over half my life encouraging enthusiastic volunteers to help construct a series of sylvan idylls in Bristol, Devon and Herefordshire. I now see that in my new-found semi-retirement, I can put this experience to a not unrelated purpose; helping in a small way to continue a gentle political transformation in a quiet corner of rural England.

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