For the past 18 months Axminster Tools & Machinery has been working with and supporting the Sylva Foundation and Wood Centre in Long Wittenham, Oxfordshire.
Earlier this year on 16th January, Sylva opened its new teaching barn. This was the next step of the Foundation’s vision to deliver education and training at the Sylva Wood School. The design of the building allows it to easily transform from workshop to classroom. Therefore, Sylva will be able to host seminars, presentations and events, together with a wide range of practical courses.
Representatives from the furniture industry attended the opening event. Guests included Dr Tony Smart (past Master) and Dids MacDonald (Senior Warden) from the Furniture Makers’ Company; designer-makers Richard Williams and Philip Koomen, plus representatives from Williams & Hand and Ercol.
New Head of Wood School
Joseph Bray, Sylva’s new Head of Wood School, shared his thoughts on the future of wood in the education sector. Here Joe focuses on the opportunities to deliver excellence in education and business enterprise.
“School classes 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.”
Workshop and skills training
Joe continued to say: “The future can feel bleak. However, we exist outside the formal education system. 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.”
Joe is also part way through an inspiring Churchill Fellowship, travelling to world-renowned institutions that deliver 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 they support students after graduation. This experience is especially helpful at this stage of the development of the Sylva Wood School.
Sylva is currently running a programme of weekend courses using external tutors. Moving forward, the school plans to launch more courses in the summer and beyond.