Mike Abbott spent most of his childhood playing in the woods around his home near Bristol. After graduating with a degree in combined science, he returned to the countryside with a variety of jobs in amenity horticulture. While attending a course in arboriculture in 1976, Mike discovered Herbert Edlin’s inspiring book Woodland Crafts in Britain. From this he made his first pole-lathe and set about rediscovering the skills that had been all but lost. Two years later he undertook a course in recreation management which included a study of the recreational potential of small woodlands. Here he developed the concept of the ‘Living Wood’; no longer just a haunt for pheasants and wildlife but an environment where people could re-establish their contact with the natural world.
After two years landscaping in Germany’s Black Forest, Mike returned to work in his home village near Bristol, supervising a youth-training scheme on a woodland restoration project. Here he was able to incorporate his new found love of woodland crafts and could see the fulfilment that this kind of work offered to his trainees. In 1985 he set up Living Wood Training with the aim of teaching green wood skills and promoting their potential. In 1989 he wrote his first book, Green Woodwork, and a year later gathered together a small group of enthusiasts to found the Association of Pole-lathe Turners which grew from a band of six in 1990 to an association of over 500 members within ten years.
Over the past two decades, Mike has taught his skills for numerous organisations throughout Britain as well as in the USA, Sweden, Denmark and Finland. In 1993, he was joined in his venture by former green-wood pupil, Tamsin Allum, a talented artist, writer and craftsperson who shares Mike's passion for woodlands. Within a year of being together, they had bought a 10-acre woodland in Herefordshire together with five other people. They subsequently renamed it Clissett Wood after Philip Clissett, a local Victorian chairmaker whose former cottage abuts the wood. For ten years this woodland was the home to Mike’s courses in a workshop that he shared with fellow green woodworker Gudrun Leitz.
Mike and Tamsin married in 1996. Since then they have lived in a cottage in East Herefordshire. In their spacious garden, they have built two traditional timber framed workshops with wattle-and-daub walls. Mike runs personal tuition and makes chairs in his workshop, while Tamsin creates stained glass illustrations in hers. As well as producing two delightful children they have also published a book entitled Living Wood - From Buying a Woodland to Making a Chair, written by Mike and illustrated by Tamsin.
After 10 years of sharing the woodland workshop at Clissett Wood, Mike decided that he needed more time and space for his courses. Meanwhile Tamsin was developing her business in stained-glass, so in 2005 they sold their shares in Clissett Wood. Since then, Mike has established a new base at Brookhouse Wood which he rents from a tree-loving Farmer, four miles along the lane from their home.
Mike has now finally achieved his main ambition; to live and work in the countryside in tune with the seasons. Each spring Mike and a group of volunteers reassemble the workshop structures and add new improvements to the woodland facilities. From May to September he runs his woodland courses with a break in July for a family holiday plus craft fairs and some personal tuition. In autumn he wraps up the workshop again for the winter. In the run up to Christmas he spends most of his time at home catching up on administration while giving Tamsin more time in the studio during her busiest season of the year. From January to March, Mike seizes the opportunity on sunny days, to pay his rent by carrying out woodland management at Brookhouse Wood. Otherwise his winter is split between making chairs, writing, running personal tuition and harvesting enough firewood to provide warmth for the cottage, the workshop and the studio.
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