The Woodee, a small family-run business based in Herefordshire, brings together the talents of local traditional craftspeople and sustainably sourced materials, to design and make a unique collection of products surrounding fire. From impressive fire pits and storm lanterns, to beautiful bellows and their trademark product ‘The Woodee’ itself, everything The Woodee creates is done with the local rural and artisan community in mind.
Founded in 2013 by husband and wife, Andrew and Louise Wright, their focus is very much on employing local talent, bringing the amazing work of rural craftspeople to a wider audience and showing off their remarkable abilities. Proving that when we shop small, sustainable and local, we build a strong foundation for growth across the country #ShoppingSmallHelpsUsAll
- In 2017 the Woodee Fire Pit was named ‘best fire pit to cook on’ in the Country Homes and Interiors Magazine
- The Woodee have also been crowned Theo Paphitis’ Small Business Sunday (SBS) Winner.
In this article, I chat with Louise about the truly impressive work The Woodee is doing to promote the talented craftspeople of Herefordshire:
Tell me more about how the business began?
We started the business in 2013 with no backing, just £100, when our youngest son started school. Designing a tool for our wood burner at home ‘The Woodee’ – a wooden handle to open a hot wood burner door, designed to save fingers from getting burnt.
To design, trademark and source the materials for our first product, took 18 months. Determined that it should be made in Herefordshire, using local materials, I approached a local independent sawmill, a local farmer and tanner, and the National School of Blacksmithing in Hereford. We have grown it slowly and organically since, always sticking to our ethos and values.
And what are your motivations? What is the vision for the future?
I am passionate about Herefordshire and local craftspeople – we want to keep growing, employing and investing in more local people and keeping our artisan collaborators in business as well.
Our medium-term goal is to forge greater links with the National School of Blacksmithing and the local Technical and Art colleges to give students business experience and design collaborations. In the long term, as our business grows, we would like to run and sponsor apprenticeships in rural crafts.
Exciting! How does your business give back to the community currently?
Herefordshire is the silent partner in The Woodee. The collaboration between the local craftspeople, natural materials and traditional skills are at the heart of what we do and why. We financially support and promote ten other rural enterprises as part of Team Woodee.
Team Woodee is made up of a local blacksmith, tanner, beekeeper, upholsterer, engineer, metalworker, woodsman, box-maker, glass blower and basket maker. Our printers, couriers, engravers, marketing support, IT, accountant, web designer and business coach are all from Herefordshire. All the people that work in the business live in and around Herefordshire.
I always use local sustainable materials plus British Steel from Port Talbot. The materials for my baskets, tools and accessories are grown in Herefordshire – fallen and felled Hereford oak and ash from a local woodsman; willow grown in local willow beds by a master basket maker; leather from local Hereford bulls by a local farmer and female tanner; beeswax for candles and polish from a local beekeeper.
What were your reasons for choosing to shop locally and sustainably?
Herefordshire is a rural community surrounded by the Black Mountains, Malvern Hills and Brecon Beacons. It has no motorways or heavy industry, has more ancient oak trees than any other county and is home to the National School of Blacksmithing. It is where I have lived all my life.
I was determined to source the craftspeople and materials from Herefordshire from the beginning because I passionately believe in supporting my local community. I wanted the essence of Herefordshire to be incorporated into everything I do. It is so deep rooted, it is part of who I am and what my brand is all about.
I do not believe that a sustainable business is based solely on cost. I am not interested in finding the cheapest materials or people wherever that may be in the world; I am committed to finding the best, locally. If it can be sourced in Herefordshire, I get it in Herefordshire, if it can’t I buy it as locally as possible – the mild steel for instance.
And is there anything else that The Woodee has done, or is planning to do in the future to help within the community
We actively promote other local businesses and charities through our business. For example, we do live cookouts on social media using our fire pits, to showcase local produce and producers to a national audience. In February, for instance, we will be working with and filming at the Welsh Venison Centre to show people how to cook venison over a fire.
We have worked with students from the National School of Blacksmithing at Holme Lacy College and, in the spring, we will be working with another group of students on a project to improve the design of our camping fire pit.
Amazing – what would be your advice to any other small businesses considering buying sustainable materials?
Choose locally and sustainably where you can. Build it into your ethos, make it who you are, don’t pay lip service to it or it will be a burden not a benefit. As well as our materials and craftspeople everyone from our printers to website designers and delivery company to marketing support are in Herefordshire. If you believe in it, it comes naturally. It has become our USP.
In line with the campaign, what do small independent businesses, such as The Woodee, bring to the community that big businesses can’t?
Small businesses have a ripple effect at grass roots in the community which supports it across many different levels. When you buy from a local business you see the tip of the iceberg. Not only does it employ local people directly in making the product or delivering the service, but it cascades down to supporting local people in their network from accountants to delivery drivers and child care to the local post office.