Steve Bannatyne: The Woodstore

19/09/2017

I caught up with Steve recently in a quiet corner of The Plotting Parlour, a cocktail bar tucked away down a side street in Brighton. We got to know each other when I was living in Hove. He introduced me to agave tequila and even made my writing desk by hand – upcycled from parquet flooring and other reused parts from a local timber supplier called The Woodstore. They also have a team who craft bespoke furniture. Steve was working in green retail at the time and making things on the side. He didn’t know that he would one day end up managing the place.

Steve Bannatyne: The Woodstore

We hadn’t seen each other since I moved from Brighton. Steve explained how he landed the role. “It was a post on Facebook that got me interested. They were looking for a GM and the job spec was very much me, given my background in furniture building, green retail and retail operations. I have been a customer since moving to Sussex. I used to walk in and get lost in all of their reclaimed wood. I’d see the potential in the materials and feel truly at home. I bought probably 80% of my materials from there when I first moved down. They operate with a small team of paid staff and the support of volunteers to create jobs for people marginalised by the job market. These have included people who struggled with addiction – both drugs and alcohol – and who are trying to find work.”

Hollingbury Table - Brighton Woodstore

“I’ve known Seth for around five years and found him to be a solid go-to person for copywriting. Someone you can have a pint with and never run out of things to discuss, and when he’s working you know that you are going to see great results that exceed expectations. It seems almost effortless. The nail gets hit on the head. Seth is a guy you want on your team, even if it’s just for a few weeks or long term. He’s a real asset.”  – Steve Bannatyne, The Woodstore

The Woodstore Brighton

The project gives them the chance to help out in the workshop, on waste collections (The Woodstore helps stop timber waste going to landfill), or in the shop. “It’s a simple approach. We take people who are struggling to get back to work. These can be long-term unemployed, recovering addicts, those who have suffered from a physical health issue or mental health problems. We provide a supportive environment where they can get used to being in a workplace and developing a routine, which in turn helps them to gain confidence and look for paid work with a good reference to back them up. Many ex-volunteers end up working with us in a permanent position.”

Boo and Scaffold boards-1

Later in the evening, we moved on to a Mexican place for these delicious little tacos and shots of tequila. We covered old ground, talking about photography and classic cars – both common interests. Steve has been restoring a rare old VW since forever. He was telling me how the VW scene and Rat Rod scene have influenced his furniture making. “There are no rights or wrongs within those circles. Anything is fair game and they regularly reuse materials that otherwise would be scrapped or thrown into a landfill. The other influence for me, believe it or not, is William Eggleston. He is the grandfather of colour photography. I love vivid colour and I started collecting Eggleston books years ago. I also used to collect magazines such as The Face and ID, amongst others.”

After leaving home at sixteen, Steve drifted down to Devon and followed his interest in drawing, enrolling on an A-Level course in Product Design and Art and Design. “It was a great course with wonderful tutors who encouraged alternative thinking. When it came to deciding on a university, it was only Central Saint Martins that I wanted to attend. I flipped a coin for 2D or 3D design, and I ended up on a Graphic Design BA. My time there taught me to think sideways. I approach each project with as much alternative thought as possible.”

Steve Bannatyne Soda Table

“I started to build items at home. A desk, a coffee table – all out of scrap, as I had no money. I would skip surf weekly. I never wanted to buy any new materials. Everything had to be ‘found’.”

The Woodstore has taken off with community support, but money is always tight. They are currently searching for a permanent home where they can combine the workshop and store in one space, somewhere that will help them steadily grow over the next few years. Steve is on the lookout for volunteers for the workshop, the store and collections. The volunteers come from all walks of life, from professionals who want to get behind a good cause to students studying woodwork and retired people who want to stay busy and pass on their knowledge.

This small workshop in Brighton is now crafting some truly stunning pieces of furniture – like their signature refectory table made from reclaimed joists ­– and they are now taking on bespoke furniture commissions for the home, the office, or even commercial projects like soft fits for coffee shops and bars. They are super-competitive, and every penny goes towards creating new jobs. Steve is also opening the doors and passing on his skills to the public with a series of workshops covering practical skills like furniture painting, inspired by their new partnership with Rustoleum paints.

Cafe - trading post coffee roasters-5

Describing what he loves about working at The Woodstore, Steve explained: “It’s very rewarding to see someone taking the chance to turn their life around. We have some incredible examples of people who have come from a dark place and have changed their lives for the better. My mantra is, ‘I’ll help you if you help yourself’. We genuinely want to help and we demonstrate this every day.”

I have seen first-hand how Steve uses his experience, imagination and creativity to point businesses in the right direction. After a few hours in his company, I always feel more inspired and uplifted about life – and not only because of the tequila and cocktails.

Follow The Woodstore on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram for inspiration.

 


Written by independent copywriter, Seth RowdenEmail hello@sethrowden.com for tone of voice, website writing and marketing copy.

Question for Steve or Seth? Ask away in the comments below. 

Posted by: Seth Rowden

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