Where does academia and green woodworking meet!?

A strange question it might be asked. But for some time I had been wondering if it would be possible to add value to coppice products and how, if at all, it would be possible to develop new ones.

I contacted the Heritage Craft Association to ask whether they had any ideas and it was suggested I contact the School of Design at Leeds University. It turns out that there is a programme there called Design Routes that is intended to develop new products utilising traditional techniques. This sounded the sort of thing that could be useful to us as coppice workers

As a result of correspondence I discovered that what is being researched is the role of design in revitalising ‘culturally significant designs, products and practices’ – by which is meant those that are traditional and carry a strong sense of place. There is a little more information about the project here: http://designroutes.org

On 5th January, 2015, I met with staff at the School. I explained coppicing and described some of the products. We looked at a Woodland TV, You Tube film of Andrew King making a hurdle as an example of the type of product and techniques used in green woodworking. I also suggested they look at other such films; the Coppice Products directory; Bodgers’ website as potential sources of examples of other types of green woodworking.

I was given a tour of the facilities at the School. As the city of Leeds was a major textile producer much of the work of the School is based around textile research, the process of attaching a weft to a warp, very much like making a hurdle. In fact, whilst showing Amy and Tom, Senior Researcher and Professor, the film of hurdle making they immediately commented on and named the type of “weaving” involved. The School also specialises in updating traditional techniques and in looking at ways of adding value to and revitalising failing traditional skills.

The School also works with Lancaster University, which specialises in products made from wood and ceramics and it may be that the work they would do with us, if any, would be partially undertaken at Lancaster. This could be convenient with CANW being close by.

We batted around ideas such as changing weave patterns, the possibility of dying hazel. We also discussed designing a generic charcoal bag to replace the one in current use and I suggested that it would be useful to consider producing a promotional film of charcoal making in Britain including perhaps a comparison between the various types of product on the market to find out which is the best.

To conclude, this is very much in its early stages and there are all sorts of hurdles (no pun intended) at which this particular horse could falter. However, since the meeting we have maintained regular contact and things have moved apace so, I am feeling quietly confident that something useful could result.

When I was first considering this visit, someone said to me that when something similar was attempted, the only result was a new design of chopping board! I am convinced this will not be the case here.

Paul Vodden

Posted in NCFed - working for you

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