New Makers’ Conference 2023 Highlights

Walled garden at wells museum New Makers’ Conference 2023 Highlights

The New Makers’ Conference was held in collaboration with the Furniture Makers’ Company at Wells Museum in Somerset on Friday, the 2nd of June 2023. It was aimed at design students and furniture makers and start-ups, bringing together experienced furniture designers and makers and focusing on how new enterprises start and grow, exploring routes from training into business, and how to achieve results with effective marketing, exhibiting, and retailing. It also gave an opportunity for networking and meeting leaders in the same field.

Over 80 furniture students and start up furniture makers attended the event.

David Dewing, past chair of the Worshipful Company of Furniture Makers and current chair of the Southwest, opened the conference with an overview of how The Furniture Maker’s Company supports education and training and wants to encourage new talent into careers in the industry.

David Dewing opening the conference

Delegates listened to speakers including Bruce Hodgson, Artichoke founder who talked with emotion about how he came to cabinet making and his journey since, and Mark Boddington, Silverlining Furniture founder who focused on a broad range of challenges and opportunities that delegates are likely to face as they begin their business journeys. Mark Boddington attributed his success in building a business to a mixture of passion, resilience and luck. Both speakers provided excellent advice on some of the pitfalls they faced and how they might be avoided.

Bruce Hodgson and Mark Boddington engaging with audience at tea break
Bruce Hodgson and Mark Boddington engaging with audience during break

The renowned wood sculptor, Eleanor Lakelin told her remarkable story – she retrained as a cabinet maker in 1995, going on to concentrate on the vessel form from 2011 and how she has come to exhibit internationally and be included in prestigious museum and private collections
including the Victoria and Albert Museum, Museum of London and Mint Museum, USA.  The day reminded us all of how there are many different pathways to earning a living working with wood.

Wood-Sculptor-Eleanor-Lakelin-at-new-makers-conference 2023 artichoke
Eleanor Lakelin delivering her speech

The day’s keynote speaker for the event was John Makepeace OBE, an award-winning designer and maker who dedicated his career to educating others. His talk, entitled ‘If only I’d known’, offered excellent insight into his work and the beginnings of the famous School for Craftsmen in Wood – later Parnham College.

John Makepeace presenting at the new makers conference
John Makepeace presenting at the conference

Chris Hyde, the Director of Curriculum Design at Active Learning, talked about finding your ‘WHY’ in the furniture making industry.

Chris Hyde presenting at the new makers conference
Chris Hyde presenting at the conference

Our youngest speakers Sean Evelegh, fine woodworker and YouTuber and Hattie Speed, designer maker and founder of ‘This Girl Makes’ provided a fresh insight into starting your business in today’s world.

Sean Evelegh and hattie Speed presenting at the conference
Sean Evelegh and Hattie Speed presenting at the conference

Sean talked with humour about his passion for woodwork and who has inspired him along the way.  He offered practical advice on how woodworkers can harness the power of social media.

Hattie provided another perspective, describing how making has helped her through difficult times in her life and fuelled her belief that craft is a basic human need and should be accessible to all.  The twists and turns of her career have led her to use her cabinet making skills in the context of the NHS, helping stroke patients with neurological rehabilitation through woodwork at the Oxford Centre for Enablement.

She challenged conventional notions of measures of success and explored the gender gap in the design industry – noting that while 63% of creative arts and design students in  universities are women, 95% of industrial and product designers are men.

Panel discussion at New Makers Conference 2023
Panel discussion

The panel discussion, with John Makepeace, Sean Evelegh, Hattie Speed and Katie Walker, chaired by David Dewing, provided an opportunity to ask questions of our speakers and debate the latest challenges facing the industry.


We broke the conference up with lunch which gave attendees the chance to network with each other while enjoying the sun in the museum’s walled garden.




The conference was closed by Artichoke Chairman, Paul von der Heyde, with special thanks Axminster Tools who provided goody-bags to conference delegates and Halstock who also sponsored the event.

The positive feedback we received confirms our commitment to the New Makers’ Conference being an annual event where we support and encourage new talent in our industry.

‘I really enjoyed attending the conference and It made me feel very welcome to be part of the big furniture family. It’s a very friendly and welcoming group of people and was a truly interesting day. Thanks for the Axminster goody bag as well – fab. A great day for the price of £10 a ticket – worth every penny.’

‘The preparation, the selection and briefing of the speakers, communications, facilities and location were splendid. Thank you.’

‘I thought everyone who helped set the conference up and run the day has really done themselves proud, it was so good, exceptional in fact, so very well-choreographed and such a nice, relaxed atmosphere. And the venue was great and so nice to be able to go out to see the cathedral at lunch.’

‘Looking forward to next year in the hope that it will be repeated although hard to imagine how it can be improved. Thanks so much for taking the time and trouble to organise it.’

‘Just a quick note to say a huge thanks for such a great conference on Friday. The fact that the day went so well (and smoothly) is testament to all your hard work in pulling the event together. The industry needs these things to happen and it was great to see that Artichoke was prepared to lead the day.,


Overall, the New Makers’ Conference was a great success. It brought together a large and diverse group of furniture designers and makers. The conference also provided a great opportunity for attendees to learn new things, network with each other, and collaborate on future projects.

Although, no date has been confirmed yet, we plan to host the next New Makers’ Conference  in 2024 at Wells Museum, Somerset. Follow us on Social Media to receive updates.

Learn more about our commitment to nurturing creative talent.


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