Graham Richards, Leather craft
Posted on 24th September 2023 at 08:01
Graham Richards, A 53 year road trip...
My active journey into leather working started ten years ago, although the kernel for it was planted about 53 years back! I’ve always been a huge westerns fan and it was when I was learning to ride western style in 1970 in Hainault Forest, Chigwell, I met Bill, a leather craftsman. As a result, I’ve wanted to learn it, ever since.
Jump to 2012. I’m on a solo road trip from Phoenix AZ to Colorado Springs CO to do a course with my work as a children’s and youth work adviser. I stopped overnight in Durango CO. It was a Sunday in early October. Everything was closed, apart from a western store. I thought I’d died and gone to cowboy heaven! The trouble was, I couldn’t afford anything. It was all hand crafted leather. However, the lad in the shop gave me a web address of a leatherwork supplier. Some months later I looked them up and they had a couple of UK outlets. A few weeks later I was driving home to Harrogate from Matlock, with £200 of tools and hide, but not a clue what to do with them!
I scoured the internet and discovered a x2 day course in a wood outside Bath: “Learn 30 basic leatherwork skills in two days!” I went. I did.
Then followed ten years of honing my craft. I was fine doing the basics, but I wanted to do more. The odd course here and there gave me new skills. I began carving and tooling leather. I tried making different things, to see what people might buy. Commissions started coming in. I was finally getting somewhere.
In June 2019 I retired. After 25 years in North Yorkshire, I felt I needed to come home to Essex in London, where my family are. I ended up in Tollesbury, overlooking the salt marshes and North Sea, because it was affordable! I looked for possible markets and joined a monthly farmers’ market in Wivenhoe. I used it to hone my presentation skills; test products and build a rapport. Then came Covid…
In the summer of 2021, when we were allowed to start doing things again, I did an event at Wickham Bishops. It didn’t go brilliantly, but I met a lady making and selling wonderful teddy bears. She liked my work and gave me a leaflet about the Essex Craft Guild. Here were like-minded people, nay, crafts people, like me. I’ve always felt passionate about my craft and love talking to people about it. Here were others that felt the same.
I get frustrated at craft events with people selling stuff they’ve either not made, or stuff they’ve made as a hobby to pass the time, but much of it is very “samey” and selling for silly low prices. I’d love people to look at my products and know how much time and skill has gone into making them. The cost in tools and supplies needed to make what I make. I wanted a standard to justify my work. The ECG offered just that.
I was also impressed by the offer of mentoring to new members. Someone to be there if I had questions or problems, although I think after 9 years, I’d already gone through most of those! Also, I felt I’d got a lot to offer the ECG, based on my years of experience, developing my craft and other skills.
I joined in early 2022 & immediately felt at home. Members were really friendly & willing to share tips & advice. People pointed me towards events that were worth considering and away from others. I also learnt good practice about setting up my stall, both at ECG events & non ECG ones. It all worked. 2022 was my best year to date and 2023 is looking good too.
What has joining the ECG meant to me so far? First, I feel like I’ve got credibility. When I’m at events and people see my ECG Certificate, they know I’m good at what I do & make. Secondly, it has raised my own standards. I now have something to strive for, to maintain, that sets me and my work apart. Thirdly, my confidence level shot up a huge step. Commissions seem less daunting, as a result.
In May this year I put myself forward for the ECG Committee. I felt I’d got so much experience as a former adviser, trainer, creative, marketer & fundraiser there are a wealth of ideas, etc, I can bring with me to benefit the Guild. I also feel there are ways we can improve what we offer to our members:
• Training and workshops on practical subjects
• Advice on marketing our work
• Networking with other Essex agencies and organisations to create new opportunities
• Sharing resources and opportunities for members
I’m also keen to see as many members as possible demonstrating their craft skills at events, alongside their stall. If a leather worker can create a mobile workshop, I’m sure many others can, too! I’d also love to see a few more members offering to serve on the committee, in order to spread the load a bit more.
Covid has affected us all. We are going through a time of reflection and change as an organisation, but I think this is a good thing and can’t wait to see how this benefits us in the future.
Share this post: