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New way to make wood workers

Kay Smith reports from a school that not only teaches carpenters their skills but claims to have the key to turn the Borders economy.

A VOCATIONAL experience for the vocational end of education - and a mission to rescue the Borders economy. That is what the Wood School near Jedburgh ambitiously offers colleges which run courses in furniture making and design.

Not only do the six members of staff there reinforce students' craft and design skills, they also lay claim to having the potential to turn round a key ingredient in the ailing Borders economy.

The School and the Borders Forest Trust, which set it up in 1996 with funding from the Millennium Forest for Scotland, aims to reinvigorate native hardwoods and thus make a contribution to the environmental and economic regeneration of Scotland and the Borders.

Eoin Cox, the school's director, comments: "Ninety per cent of low grade timber gets exported. We then buy it back as mass-produced finished products.

"It is a process that does nothing for the range of available products or for the local economy. The result is an ecological and economic imbalance in the Borders."

College students, and lecturers, are frequent visitors from England as well as Scotland. "They recognise they have not seen tree-felling, or timber seasoned or dried," Mr Cox says, "things that are a crucial part of their personal development as furniture makers."

Tim Hodgson, aged 20, has started a year-long placement as part of his HND course at East Yorkshire College near Bridlington. But he is not just picking up aesthetic tips from the facilities of a custom-built workshop.

He is also learning about sourcing and preparing raw materials - not to mention overheads, running costs and marketing.

"Colleges don't prepare you for working in a business," Mr Hodgson says.

Mr Cox says the Wood School plugs a gap. Students find that jobs in furniture making and design are not easy to come by and setting up in business on their own can be hard going.

The road to Jedburgh offers a middle way - not only the resources but the psychological back-up of workshop facilities.

But working in a world of mass-produced products does not help the students. Mr Cox believes his school, in collaboration with FE colleges, needs to create "a wood culture".

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