Louise Wright, Woodee Limited
The Woodee brings together local traditional craftspeople, rural skills and local materials to design, and make a unique collection of products which revolve around fire – beautiful things to house it, to tame it and to use it. From fire pits and storm lanterns to bellows and fire irons – everything we do ties fire to our rural life and its artisan community.
My husband Andrew and I started the business in 2013. Being a daughter of a traditional craftsman and the wife of a heritage roofer, who is the son of a dairy farmer, Andrew and I have our roots deeply planted in rural Herefordshire. Working in harmony with the land and using natural materials is in our blood. We have four children (13, 15, 17, 19) and live in the rural village of Dorstone near Hay on Wye. We started the business with no backing, just £100, when our youngest son started school, and have grown it slowly and organically, always sticking to our ethos and values.
We won a Country Living Magazine Table Talent competition and launched our business at the Country Living Spring Fair in March 2015. In 2017 the Woodee Fire Pit was named ‘best fire pit to cook on’ in the Country Homes and Interiors Magazine. I am a Theo Paphitis Small Business Sunday (SBS) Winner and was coined ‘The Queen of Collaboration’ by Ellie Harrison when our business was featured on BBC Countryfile on 5th January 2020.
We sell the Woodee Collection direct through our website, Instagram and Facebook and in normal times through attending events such as Grand Designs Live, Harrogate Flower Show and Hay Festival; and exhibitions such as the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS) shows Hampton Court, Chatsworth, Malvern and Cardiff. Showcasing the craftsmanship of the Woodee Collection in person means that we can tell the story of each unique product, where it has come from and who has made it.
What were your motivations behind opening the business, what is the vision for the future?
I am passionate about Herefordshire, rural crafts, natural materials and local craftspeople. We champion and promote these crafts, materials and people by designing, making and selling a collection that is practical, beautiful and built to last. We want to keep growing, employing and investing in more local people and keeping our artisan collaborators in business.
We started our business in 2013 after designing a tool for our wood burner at home. That tool is ‘The Woodee’ and is 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 started making bellows, willow log baskets and fire irons in 2015 and launched our flagship Woodee Fire Pit in 2016.
In the long term as our business grows we would like to run and sponsor apprenticeships in rural crafts and set up a Woodee Traditional Crafts Centre.
What is your business doing to give back to the community?
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 ten other rural enterprises as part of Team Woodee. In addition, we promote them and their businesses through individual pages on our website, through social media, newsletters and in print.
Team Woodee is made up of a local blacksmith, tanner, beekeeper, upholsterer, engineer, metalworker, woodsman, box-maker, glassblower 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 use local sustainable materials plus a combination of British steel from Port Talbot and stainless steel. 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; beeswax for candles and polish from a local beekeeper.
We promote courses run by our craftspeople and others for traditional skills and rural crafts, to encourage people to ‘have a go’, for a greater appreciation and understanding of the countryside. These have included blacksmithing, woodworking, basket making, glass blowing and bushcraft. We believe there are also huge benefits to this for mental health which in future we aim to develop and support.
What were your reasons for choosing to shop locally and sustainably? How does this help the community?
Herefordshire is a rural community surrounded by the Black Mountains, Malvern Hills and the 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.
Our motto is ‘Craftsmanship in Collaboration’. Through our collaboration with local traditional craftspeople we have an amazing depth of experience and gravitas to our business, and coupled with using local materials, this gives us a unique provenance that has helped build a strong and successful rural enterprise.
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.
At an SBS Winners Event I attended in Birmingham, Sir Tom Hunter (Scottish billionaire businessman and philanthropist) said that the best thing you can do as a small business ‘to give something back’ is to provide a decent job for someone. I believe that we do that through supporting our rural craftspeople and other local businesses, giving them work and putting money in their pockets.
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. Since the beginning of the first lockdown I have been cooking from my back garden every Saturday morning and so far have showcased many local producers, farmers, butchers, and farm shops.
We attend charity open days and events at local businesses such as Madley Plants, Whitney Court, Hampton Court Castle and Barton Court. This raises funds for local charities such as St Michael’s Hospice, local restoration projects and local schools and groups.
What do small independent businesses, such as The Woodee, bring to the community that big businesses simply can't?
Small businesses have a ripple effect at grassroots 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.
What do your craftspeople and the local businesses that you work with say about working with Woodee?
“Louise is an absolute inspiration. It has been our absolute pleasure to work with her since the beginning and her custom provides a valuable addition to our income. Louise’s breed specific requirements of Hereford hides allow us to source from within the immediate locality thereby contributing to the local rural economy. As a fellow working mother I admire everything Louise has done, how she strives for perfection and her determination to support not only her family but local producers.”
Hayley Hanson, Hayley Hanson Hides
“Since I started working with Louise at Woodee, my business has developed into areas I had not thought of before. This keeps us fresh, coming up with new ideas and I enjoy the collaboration between the many different craftspeople involved. I am sure that they, as I do, look forward to the new challenges Louise is surely going to set us in the future. I wish her the very best of luck.”
Steve Lloyd, Blacksmith
“The collaboration that Woodee offers gives us the chance to produce work that we would never normally think of or make whilst working alone. It moves traditional design forwards.”
Jenny Crisp, Basket Maker
“The Woodee is a growing asset to its community, keeping traditional local crafts alive, and making people aware that these skills exist. It may even inspire the next generation of crafts and trades people to get involved.”
David Malone, Traditional Joinery
“Louise has tapped into a rich vane of demand from discerning clients, for her well designed, durable, pleasing products, incorporating a skilled blend of production from traditional rural crafts people. I am proud to be associated with the Woodee brand and look forward to working with Louise for years to come; she has helped secure our jobs in the countryside”
Steve Methven, Agricultural Engineer
"Louise with her belief in sourcing locally, has not only put together a beautiful range of products, but by collaborating with local crafts and business, has added more life and much needed vibrancy to a local rural economy."
Paul and Rowena, Eirian Glass Studio
“I have known Louise for many years and I have always been immensely impressed by her enthusiasm and drive not only to make the business succeed, but to ensure its always 100% Herefordshire. I love the fact that it’s all local and to add to the 'local craftsman' attribute, her business extends further into the roots of Herefordshire. Louise recognised at an early stage that fire pits need high quality dry wood so, she didn’t need to look far to find what she wanted - kiln dried logs from sustainable local woodland thinnings and all dried using biomass and solar - keeping to the ethos of The Woodee brand. Louise is great to work with and we believe we have a truly symbiotic relationship in which both local Herefordshire businesses work together for mutual benefit - if that's not an asset to local community, I don’t know what is!”
Nic Snell, Certainly Wood
“We are proud to have helped Louise and The Woodee take the next step in their business growth, and have used our expertise in design and materials to help guide her through the production of her latest brochure and sales materials. In small rural communities, it is important to have trusting relationships with local businesses.
“We have had a long-standing partnership with The Woodee and are now really excited to see Louise take the business to a new level. We wish her continued success and look forward to collaborating with her in the near future for this year’s upcoming events.”
"Working with The Woodee is a real pleasure. The Woodee's founder, Louise, brings so much to my coaching practice – generously connecting me with other businesses in the area – and displaying a drive and passion that inspires everyone who meets her. Louise's commitment to traditional crafts and heritage, combined with her savvy and forward-thinking approach, gives her a unique perspective.
“Louise supports a range of local community events, ranging from the Glanusk Estate Fayre (raising funds for the NGS charity) to the Hay Social Media Group and much more besides that. I'm proud to count her among my clients."
Helen Campbell, Business Coach