Feature Mondays – The AWGB – from whence it came and where it is going

Monday 9 July 2018

It's not every day you get a call offering you a £10,000 donation to help disadvantaged prospective and existing turners, young and old alike. But that is what happened in June 2015 to our Treasurer, and that was a direct result of the AWGB achieving charitable status… but I get ahead of myself. Let's start at the beginning…

It is an unquestioned truism, particularly to woodturners, that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. So it has been with the AWGB. In the mid-1980s the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in America, which still functions today, hosted a Woodturning Conference and Symposium, and an Exhibition entitled 'Vision and Concept'. For Ray Key, later to become a founding member of the AWGB and its President, this was a 'must attend' event. Turners from many countries attended, and there was much discussion about the formation of an international woodturning group. This was never fulfilled. On his return from Arrowmont, Ray was determined that a similar seminar/exhibition should happen in the UK. He set about contacting British woodturners, and raised financial backing from the Crafts Council, Craft Supplies and Rolston Timber. With the help of many others the first International Woodturning Seminar in the UK was held at what was then called Loughborough College of Art and Design in August 1987, at which the draft constitution for an AWGB was presented to the 150 attendees. Thus was born the AWGB. The acorn had grown into a sapling. Over the next 25 years or so that sapling has grown into a full-grown oak tree with over 60 branches and 60 clubs comprising around 3,500 members. But I'm getting ahead of myself again!

What is the AWGB?

The AWGB is an international non-profit making organisation dedicated to the advancement and promotion of woodturning. It consists of individual members, with many belonging to affiliated branches and associated clubs throughout the country. It exists to provide education, information and organisation to those interested in woodturning. Members include hobbyists, professionals, gallery owners, collectors and wood and tool suppliers. For most of the AWGB's life it has had, at national level, an elected committee of both amateur and professional turners. In 2012 we transformed into a Company and a Charity; but more of that anon. At branch level it is organised by local members. What the AWGB is and stands for is clear from its aims and objectives, which have remained almost constant since its formation. Some provide an ambitious challenge; that said a great many of them have been achieved while others are ever ongoing. They are:

1. To foster a greater awareness, nationally and internationally, of the woodturners' art and craft.

1. To provide a forum to encourage the communication and exchange of views between woodturners of all nations.

2. To make collectors, galleries, architects, suppliers and manufacturers of turners' equipment and other interested parties aware of the turners' work and turners' needs.

3. To encourage and participate in the development of training standards and educational facilities for turning.

4. To act as the body that represents the interests of turners nationally and internationally.

5. To provide a Members' newsletter at regular intervals – quarterly – with relevant news.

6. To arrange national and international seminars and exhibitions that encourage all to aim for and achieve high quality turnery.

7. To act as the national body to advise and communicate with publications and other parts of the media to foster a greater public awareness of the turners' art and craft.

8. To communicate with government and other bodies relevant to the arts and crafts movements.

9. To encourage the formation of local area woodturning branches by providing advice, practical assistance and financial help.

Affiliated Branches benefit from a number of services and facilities, for example:

1. Public and products liability insurance.

2. An annual grant towards demonstrations of woodturning.

3. The AWGB Handbook, which contains a wealth of information.

4. All Branches are provided with an Affiliation Certificate to confirm their status.

The AWGB has divided the UK into five regions – formerly four – and the Branches in those Regions elect Regional Representatives to represent them in the AWGB Committee. Amongst the Members' benefits are the Biennial AWGB International Seminars. These engage world-class turners from within and without the UK providing two-and-a-half days of presentations. The event is further enhanced by the presence of many craft-related traders, the 'instant gallery' of pieces entered by delegates, an auction of donated pieces to aid the AWGB Training and Development programme and a fine banquet on the Saturday evening. All this is reported in the AWGB newsletter – Revolutions – and on our website www.awgb.co.uk – which merits more than a little mention. The AWGB website has undergone a number of changes over the years and the version you see today is due to the efforts of one of our Trustees, Paul Hannaby. It contains a wealth of information about the AWGB, its activities and events.

Encouraging young turners

The majority of the AWGB membership is at the 'upper end of the age spectrum', to put it kindly! Thus we invest considerable effort to encourage young people to engage with woodturning. We run YT – Young Turners – weekends in various locations around the country where young people – under 19 – are taught the fundamentals of turning. These are run in conjunction with the Worshipful Company of Turners – WCT – with whom we have a close, but informal, association. The tutors are very experienced turners, some are members of the Register of Professional Turners – RPT. At the close of such a weekend the Master or another senior official of the WCT usually presents the certificates of attendance to the young turners. To witness the gallery of bowls, hollow forms, pens and other articles that have been achieved in two days is truly a testament to both the professionalism of the tutors and the aptitude of the young students. Another way in which we seek to engage the young is by attending Scout Jamboree events. Members of local AWGB Branches take along a lathe and give 'taster' sessions to the scouts where they, under the strict supervision of a tutor, turn something simple. These efforts to engage young people are not about trying to produce 'instant turners', but to 'sow the seed' of interest so that later on, maybe much later on, they may return to the craft.

Shows and events

Throughout all these past years the AWGB has actively attended more shows and events then it is possible to relate here. These events are usually devoted to the many forms of transforming wood into both useful and artistic pieces, and attract many traders providing the raw materials and equipment appropriate to the craft. Our presence helps promote the craft, exhibits pieces of fine work made by our members for the public to see what can be achieved and usually helps to recruit new members to our ranks. In more recent years the AWGB has been intimately involved with the WCT in putting on their 'Wizardry in Wood' exhibitions at one of the Livery Company's headquarters in London. These are open to the public, and attract many visitors to peruse, and to buy, the absolute 'top-of-the-range' of British woodturning.

Charitable status

During 2011 we were encouraged to become a Company Limited by Guarantee and a Registered Charity. Robert Craig, a member from North London, and our Treasurer at the time, Adrian Needham, worked tirelessly to develop the Articles of Association and organised a vote of the membership to take us forward to a new era. The membership voted overwhelmingly in favour of becoming a Company and a Charity. Charitable status was achieved in December 2012. We now have a number of Trustees that take joint responsibility for managing the affairs of the AWGB. This has entailed setting up a separate Trading Company called AWGB Trading Ltd, which enables us to run our trading activities such as selling promotional merchandise and running the Seminar. The transition into Charitable status and understanding what it means has been a challenge for all those involved, but the benefits more than outweigh the effort. It has enabled us:

1. To raise our status within the community at large.

2. To benefit from additional income generated through Gift Aid.

3. To negotiate an excellent insurance deal underwritten by Zurich Insurance who specialise in providing insurance to the charity sector.

4. To benefit from donations from other trusts, which brings me back to where I started!

The additional funds will help us to provide grants to turners of all abilities from all backgrounds who find themselves at a financial disadvantage. We are expanding our Member Development programme where we provide free training courses to our members. Other major initiatives over the last two years are the development and issue of 'Let's Teach Turning' a course designed to train individuals to teach the basics of woodturning safely, which we hope will raise the standards not only in the UK but overseas as well. It is freely available to download from our website.

The future of the AWGB

What's next? A good question. We are working on the development of a programme for the next International Seminar, upgrading our Development Activities including promotion of the Certificate in Woodturning, which is co-sponsored by the WCT, and promoting the new Grant Fund. Exciting times past – and more excitement to come. If you have ideas about what we could do, let us know – all ideas are welcome and if you're not already a member we'd encourage you to join – you won't regret it!

25 Years of THE AWGB: an AWGB Chairman's perspective by Andy Coates

In 1990, when Woodturning magazine first hit the newsstands, the AWGB was barely three years old. I suspect there is a direct correlation between these two facts. The AWGB was formed from a number of meetings of like-minded individuals, turners, who had a desire to promote woodturning in its reborn state. The founding group – Ray Key, Mike Cripps, Cecil Jordan, Tobias Kaye, Steven Marchant, Bert Marsh, Dave Regester, Mike Scott, Reg Sherwin and Don White – set the AWGB on its way, and everything it has achieved over 28 years owes something to each of them, and a number of others without whose help it wouldn’t have been possible, not least of whom is Liz Key, who supported the AWGB for many years in a number of ways. Woodturning in the UK would not be what it is today without the passion, dedication and drive of each of these people. We owe them a debt of thanks. We also owe a debt of thanks to Woodturning magazine, which has been there quietly supporting both us and the craft throughout this time.

I became an AWGB Committee member in 2006, and at that time I was relatively new to turning, let alone the rarefied heights of the national body. Almost everything was new to me back then: the procedures, policies, practices, history, associations and relationships, aspirations, everything. It was a steep learning curve, but people like Lionel Pringle, Ray Key and Tony Witham were on hand to offer guidance and support and fill in the gaps when needed. I saw the AWGB as being an organisation worth putting something back in to. I had joined a local branch, Waveney & District, and found the camaraderie, advice and support valuable and refreshing, and wanted to offer something back. So I was co-opted onto the Committee and that's where I've been ever since. It has only been nine years, but during those nine years there have been some big changes.

After a meeting in 2007 the AWGB underwent something of a reboot. Just as in any organisation of its size problems had come to light, personality clashes and differing opinions on the future direction of the association had all played a role in making the day-to-day activities fraught with difficulties. The meeting put all these difficulties to bed and we breathed a collective sigh of relief and got on with the job of driving things forward.

At the core of everything we have done since has been an assumption, largely unspoken, and perhaps based upon nothing more than previous assumptions and a scant sentence in our old constitution that the AWGB is, 'all about promoting the craft'. This aim has been at the heart of everything the association has done over the past 28 years. We may not always have got things right, but the aspiration has never wavered.

Since its inception the AWGB has developed individual members – the very root of the AWGB – the burgeoning branch movement of fully affiliated clubs, and latterly a growing number of associated clubs. We now have over 4,000 members, and 120 associated and affiliated clubs, and there are over 50 independent clubs in the UK. In 1987, the year the AWGB was formed, there was one club known.

So where are we now? Where does the AWGB go in the future? For the Executive, the board of 15 trustees who govern the charity, this is a perennial question. Stasis is neither sensible nor appealing. As the AWGB has developed over the past 28 years it has done so with the great advantage of the experience and knowledge of the founders to guide it. Time, however, has a great knack of withdrawing that knowledge base from use, old associations become fractured or pass on the way things and people sadly do, and we are left almost bereft of its benefit. It is the job of the Executive to ensure that these strands are maintained and further developed wherever possible. We not only need to progress and develop our activities to the benefit of woodturning as a whole, but also to remember where we came from; to honour what and who has gone before and incorporate these elements in what we do in the future. Training and development, I believe, will be the key areas that we will devote our efforts to, most notably where young turners are concerned. In this time of the burgeoning artistic movement 'technique' is a word that is often spat out like a profanity, but as I always tell students, once you have mastered the correct techniques you can do things the way you want to from a foundation of knowledge, understanding and safety.

As you read this, the AWGB will have just held an exhibition at Trowbridge Town Hall of work drawn from the Instant Gallery of the 2015 International Seminar. This exhibition is the first of its kind in over two decades: an exhibition of purely woodturned art and craft exhibited in a dedicated space for a largely non-woodturning audience. It’s a step forward. It is not enough to simply develop woodturners and ensure the continuation of the craft if there is no appreciation of the skill and artistry involved in the production of the work we make; we need to educate the public at the same time. What use are woodturners if there is no demand for their output?

I have no doubt that the AWGB will be here when Woodturning magazine celebrates 50 years of publication. I suspect that if I'm still around by then that I won't recognise it, that I'll be forever saying, 'when I was involved we…', but that's the thing… time marches on. Things change. We might not always like or agree with it, but change is inevitable. My hope is that the Executive at the time keep firmly in mind that it's ‘all about promoting the craft’. Here's to 25 more years of making shavings.