Update by Eoin Cox M.B.E
The team at Woodschool is continuing to build on its successes with its Design & Make collective based in the Scottish Borders.
I was going to start a bright and breezy piece saying that in Britain we are selling loads of quality timber, have got a state-of-the-art processing industry and have a talented design-and-make furniture base - all waiting to turn our native hardwoods into beautiful finished products. But it has been a tough year for the woodland and workshop alike and it would be wrong to gloss over the facts.
The effects of Foot and Mouth disease were still apparent in 2002 from the downturn in enquiries that we would normally have had from the programme of event attendance cancelled due to the crisis. We had to work really hard to build up the lost momentum. We concentrated more on the end user of timber and the specifier of finished goods. It’s all about market awareness really. If the grower doesn’t know you exist, they won’t sell their trees to you. If the punter hasn’t heard of you, they are going to reach for a "Made by Slaves" catalogue.
Pippy oak bench by John Johnston.
Britain’s innovative programme of processing means getting the products made in Malta, Italy, Spain or The Far East ! Our merchants are not paying what they used to for quality timber because they can buy it for half the price from Europe.
Woodschool has also been working very closely with Andy Wiseman, Head Forester with The Buccleuch Estates. We have had many a discussion on the whys and wherefores of Scottish timber with students, retailers and designers. We have also been supported in a more demonstrative way with The Buccleuch Estates Ltd, donating the cost of two new kilns. This will alleviate bottleneck and get more kiln-dried stock to market - one less excuse for the specifier not to buy home grown !
So what are we going to do about it ? We, the growers, cutters, hauliers, merchants, sawmillers, designers, makers and consumers all have a responsibility to try and turn things round.
Twenty years ago, the organic farm movement was apparently the domain of nutters. Now the Great British public almost demands it. The tree business needs the same makeover. You’ve had the "wood.forgood" campaign led by the Nordic Timber Council and "Treefest" led by the Forestry Commission. But how much home grown timber has it shifted ?
Elm table and chair by Tim Norman.
Sadly, there are still no extra points for selling with a Locally Grown or Locally Made ticket. The green label doesn’t really have much added value either. There is no getting away from it - we have to be as my granny would say "more better".
Woodschool has been doing this by educating the architects, engineers and builders at undergraduate level and in commercial practice. Very few of our Material Knowledge Days leave anybody in any doubt as to what is inside the worktops or reception desks that we make. It is truly amazing the number of specialists that do not know their elmbow from their ash (sic). By demonstrating the grades, appearance, strengths of our own hardwoods we have had an impact on people dealing with our architecturally built environment. The Scottish Hardwood Timber Market Development Group has been effectual in getting trees to the trade. It is just this collective approach by hardcore merchants, woodland managers, processors and manufacturers that is facilitating the mind-shift in home grown timber.
To end on a positive note - the consensus of feeling is that the hardwood market and resulting finished solid product is on an upward trend. This could be as a result of poor quality imports and a move away from non-timber products. This niche market may be niche but it is a big one. So there is much todo to grab a bit more of the home-grown and home-made market !