Burnley College's Northern School of Furniture championing the British manufacturing industry
The Chinese have done their best to kill off our furniture industry but Lancashire is fighting back. Emma Mayoh reports PHOTOGRAPHS BY JOHN COCKS
David Shackleton is the first to admit things weren’t going well. He had spent years in jobs that were not quite right for him, he had been made redundant twice and his confidence dripped. But in just a few months, his life has been turned around.
The 34-year-old’s dramatic change in fortunes has been due to his work on the furniture design course he started last September at Burnley College.
‘It’s been life affirming,’ he declares. ‘Now I feel like I’ve finally found what I want to do.
‘I love the design process and the furniture making and my confidence is growing every day.’
To keep his creativity going while waiting for his course to resume next month, David, inspired by Dutch designer Gerrit Rietueld, has launched his own furniture design business called Red Thumbprint.
He makes everything from kitchen items to small coffee tables and walking sticks on the lathe he has at home.
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He says: ‘I’m obsessed with furniture. I just can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve been so lucky to get on the course because there aren’t many out there, especially as good as this.’
David’s work has recently featured in a special exhibition at Towneley Hall alongside pieces created by other students from the course. They includes Roger Hindle, a mature student, whose career has gone full circle.
The 51-year-old studied carpentry and joinery at Burnley College as a teenager. But after being made redundant from his first job after just six months, he retrained and spent more than two decades as a youth and community worker in the Midlands. But it was after retuning to Lancashire, and again being made redundant, that he started to evaluate what he wanted from life.
Roger, who launched his own business Roger Hindle Design, says: ‘I’ve always known about the course and it was something that really appealed to me.
‘I knew it would be better doing something like this rather than claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance and I would get new skills. I’ve not looked back and I’m enjoying every second of it.’
Roger and the other five furniture design students are now hoping to set up a co-operative. They want to find a workshop where they can create pieces to order as well as have a creative space for them produce their work. They also hope to have shows and exhibitions.
But it is not just about promoting their own work. They also want to boost local industry. Roger said: ‘We want it to be for us but also people who have previously been on the course. It’s very exciting. It will be about showcasing the talent we have in Lancashire.
‘We would love to create a Lancashire brand that people will come to recognise as a hallmark of quality. We want to get the co-operative established so we can move things on quick and show the country what great designers we have here.’
Allan Jones, the course’s programme leader, is delighted with his student’s work. ‘Over the years, furniture design has taken a real hit. Many local companies have closed because countries like China produce it more cheaply.
‘This means we have lost expertise and craftsmanship. But we are starting to compete again and things are definitely starting to pick up. The exhibition has shown people there is a lot of talent in the county and we need to celebrate it.’