A current student’s story: James Bullen

At the Chippendale School, we welcome students from hugely diverse backgrounds to study the art of furniture making with us. Often, students have discovered a passion for woodworking that emerged later in life and are now acting on their enthusiasm to craft a fulfilling creative career.  

These career changers have often realised their former role wasn’t quite as fulfilling as it once was – and this is exactly what happened with current student James Bullen. 

James, a former commodities trader, left his role of 20 years as he felt that something was missing. He found it in woodworking – keep reading to find out all about James’ story and his experience of studying with us.  

From London to Alaska 

After leaving his high-profile role in London, James and his wife dabbled in the restaurant business. They ran a bistro on Mersea, a small island off the coast of Essex, for two years before realising “that cooking for friends and family was nothing like cooking for the hungry masses of seaside revellers!” 

After that, James invested in a technology company which he could run remotely – giving him the ability to work from anywhere. As James tells us, they packed up and moved to “a remote island in Canada just off the coast of Vancouver Island, where we lived for six months in a log cabin during winter – cutting wood, making fires, fishing for salmon, the whole shebang!” 

James explains they then “purchased an RV and made the 3000km drive from Vancouver Island to Homer in Alaska! We lived there on a 600-acre homestead with the Kilcher Family, who feature on the Discovery Channel show Alaska: The Last Frontier.” 

Igniting a passion for woodworking 

Prior to his travels, the only experience James had of woodworking was with small personal projects – James explains he got to try out more projects in Canada and Alaska: 

“One being making a smoker for our off-grid neighbour and another was making a picnic bench for the Kilcher Alaskan Homestead. It was whilst making these projects that I always said to myself ‘I wish I knew how to do this properly’ as opposed to watching YouTube videos and feeling like I was ‘bodging’ the project due to lack of knowledge.” 

Returning to the UK to reset their visas, James was determined to expand his woodworking skills so he could put them to good use. After embarking on extensive research, he settled on the Chippendale School, with our intensive 9-month Professional Course being the main selling point. 

An “extraordinary” learning experience  

James started on our 2019/20 course, and he says his experience so far has been “extraordinary – I have learned so much already, and not just the practical side of woodworking but also advice on how to start and market your own business and present a professional design to clients.” 

He further explains what he loves about studying with us: 

“The tutor – student ratio is excellent, allowing them to help and advise students as and when its needed. The School tries to make sure that everyone’s learning styles are catered for and that students have knowledge of all aspects of running a business, from knowing good suppliers and what machinery to use to being able to present a professionally finished piece of furniture.” 

James also notes that a highlight has been our expert guest lecturers: “I have loved learning from these highly-skilled professionals, and they have passed on knowledge and tips that are invaluable.” 

Making bold moves 

As with any bold leap into new circumstances, James has faced his share of challenges – he explains his main one is “…probably procrastination! Finding the confidence to work independently and not be afraid to make mistakes, but the tutors are fantastic at giving you the confidence to trust your judgements and make that first cut.” 

Despite the challenging circumstances 2020 has brought, James has nonetheless seen the positives: “I have had lots of time at home to practice and build confidence and have already had several commissions to build furniture and I’m not even at the end of the course yet!” 

 Upon finishing the course later this year, James tells us about his plans for the future: 

“My family and I would like to open our own woodwork school back in North America. Having the qualification will hopefully aide in our visa application and having the Chippendale name attached to the qualification will hopefully inspire our future students, as it is an internationally recognised brand.” 

Should you take the leap? 

If you are considering making a career change and dream of turning your woodworking hobby into a career, James wholeheartedly says to go for it: 

“I would advise anyone who is considering the course to definitely go ahead and do it. It’s the experience of a lifetime and whether you are a serious hobbyist or a professional, you will gain skills and knowledge to create some truly beautiful and bespoke furniture.   

“You will also have the opportunity to meet people from all walks of life, all ages and nationalities, all with a common love of woodwork. I have made friends that I will cherish and stay in contact with for the rest of my life, and I will be so sad when it’s over and I don’t get to see Tom and all the tutors every day. 

“I definitely feel I have a purpose and a plan now for the future and I feel really proud to be able to achieve a professional qualification.” 

We are still accepting applications for our 2020/21 Professional course – find out more about it here or get in touch with us today if you have any questions. 

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