Shhh it is a secret, but I don't skip to the office every morning. Actually, joking apart, I tend to run, but somehow, as I jog through the streets of Hemel and London, I do seem to propel myself a bit quicker on the home leg. I suspect this is true in sentiment of most people – it is almost impossible to enjoy all aspects of work, at the end of the day it is "work". Then again I am perhaps one of the lucky ones because some days (indeed most days), I step back and realise what a great privilege it is to be CEO of the BWF, to operate at the heart of this amazing industry and some days I am absolutely blown away and take immense pride in this fabulous, fast moving and modern industry.
Today happened to be one of those days and as I sit on my train back home I can reflect on the two businesses that I saw. Both very different, but both investing and expanding and both equally passionate about what they do. This passion is not unique to our sector, but having worked in a number of sectors, I do believe it is more widespread. Our sector is born of a trade, a craft and the ethos of this is still evident. We also work with a natural, beautiful and incredibly unique material, one that is grown, cultivated and in need of understanding and respect. The people behind the businesses I met today are clearly practioners and ambassadors of this craft, very much evolving their businesses to suit the modern world, but both still knock things up in wood at the weekends for pleasure. Amidst the trials and tribulations and risk of running a business (the "work"), they haven't lost their love of the material and the endless possibilities it offers.
Our history is history. Before we made stuff with anything else, we had the Wood Age. We can argue it out with the stone masons as to who was first and to be fair they officially got the Stone Age, but whether we smashed something with or chucked a rock at it or whether we poked it or whacked it with a stick first, is semantics for the historians, ultimately for the best part of 2 million years we have been woodworking and yet we are still innovating. This story is far more eloquently told by our friends in Denmark in the fantastic cartoon (a quick history of wood)
But the key point here is that, from a base of 2 million years of experience, we are still evolving… and fast.
As our customers demand more and more for less and less it is necessary for the craftsman to start to evolve into an engineer and the blending is delivering impressive results. Add to this a sprinkle of entrepreneurial endeavour and that passion that is embodied in the sector and you start to get innovations in products that are literally as old as the hills and shift changes in the way we supply product, reduce lead time, transport and package and solve customer problems. More complex shapes, shorter lead times, composite, multi-material solutions materials that provide aesthetic or structural nuance. Today we talked product, market and process, we talked risk mitigation and management, I saw how the concept of 3d printing is evolving into our space, I saw engineering apprentices working alongside bench joiners, wood machinists and software/web developers to optimise solutions that solve problems for customers and enable designers to be flamboyant, unique and at the same time compliant and safe and much of it in real time!
Today I saw how we can take centre stage in the modernisation of construction, compete with import, today I saw not just an industry in transition, I saw a modern industry that is thriving – the start of the new Wood Age? Today I certainly felt the privilege of my office very acutely. I am a proud custodian of a true secret gem, and therein lies a frustration, today my resolve was strengthened further. We the BWF need to be equally imaginative, innovative and dedicated to ensure that the rest of the world sees what I saw – we still have traditional values and these we should cherish, but we also have both feet firmly planted in the modern world and we need to do our bit to ensure that our customers and legislators realise that woodworking is a key part of our heritage and a vital part of our future.
See the UK Woodworking Manifesto: A key part of our heritage and a vital part of our future