Made in Norfolk
The old aircraft base that’s now a craft base
OPENED IN the 1930s, RAF West Raynham was well-known for the missions its planes flew during the Second World War.
Tucked away in the countryside near Fakenham, the base was built in 1938 and during its time on the frontline was home to Blenheims, Bostons, Mosquitos, Javelins, Hunters, Canberras and more. In the Cold War era the silhouettes of Bloodhound missiles were a common sight.
In 1994 the Ministry of Defence closed the base. Now known as West Raynham Business Park, its hangars and offices are once again a hive of activity with a growing community of artists and craftspeople, from studios and workshops to full-scale manufacturing operations, making it a hub for rural industry.
“That’s like the inside of my head,” says artist Nigel Skinner with a chuckle pointing to his workspace. If you were asked to imagine an artist’s studio, this is exactly what it would look like. Organised chaos. A hoard of ephemera out of which creative ideas will form and take shape.
Nigel admits that it could take years for those ideas to gestate. He graduated from art school almost 20 years ago and over the course of those two decades his practice has evolved as he has explored ideas linked to consumerism and the use of resources.
In time the items he has collected will form the fabric of his work – in an extreme form of upcycling, it will become the paint for his canvases or the foundations of his sculptures.
“I would say that 90 per cent of the material I use in paintings – I make sculptures as well, is reclaimed – I make paint with dust and ash.
“More recently I’ve been tying environmental themes into the work. I
looked up the definition of consume and it’s not a positive connotation. To live we are all consumers, but the world is in a very delicate place, the balance between us and resources.
“The technology industry seems to be such a wasteful industry – [creating] the need to buy the newest thing. Any plastics I use won’t be ending up in a fish unless someone throws my artwork off Cromer Pier.”
As well as his studio, Nigel has an exhibition space in RAF West Raynham’s former chapel. Unsurprisingly, given the building’s past, spirituality is another theme which runs through his work.
Nigel opens up the chapel during the county’s annual Open Studios event in the early summer and at other times by appointment. As well as selling original artworks, his work is also available as limited edition prints.
Returning to work after being treated for prostate cancer several years ago, carpenter and joiner Robin Massingham set up Wensum Joinery, basing himself in a former barrack storage unit on the base where customers find him via word of mouth. Projects he has worked on include this summer’s restoration of the bell tower at Fakenham Junior School, crafting new gates for Sculthorpe Church and pieces for the renovation of the royal residence Anmer Hall.
Being based at West Raynham Business Park puts guitar maker and artist James Crisp in tune with nature. “I look out of the window and I see buzzards,” he says. James moved into his workshop just over a year ago and it has given him the space to craft and build his guitars.
“This place has got everything I need,” he says. As he explains, the design of his guitars has been years in development.
“It’s been a long time in the planning. There have been a few prototypes,” he says. “At first I wanted to improve my own guitars, which led me into woodwork. For years and years I was a carpenter and cabinet maker. I wanted to learn woodwork from lots of different angles.”
The guitars are made from native English timbers – rippled olive ash and walnut. “It produces quite a pure sound,” says James. The body of the guitar is fully carved all the way around and it takes around six months to custom build a guitar from start to finish.
Another string to James’ creative career is his art. Again working in native woods, and developed through experimentation, James makes what he describes as “fractal wood art”, carving out landscapes in geometric shapes by machine.
“The landscapes change depending on the way the light hits them,” he says.
As Norfolk Oak and Naked Kitchens, Jayne and Jamie Everett have made bespoke kitchens for homes all over the country and beyond and have been featured in top interiors magazines. They have also worked on commercial joinery projects for famous names including Marks and Spencer and the Royal Albert Hall. Several years ago they moved their entire business – administration, manufacturing and a showroom – which was spread over several sites, to its new HQ – a 75-year-old aircraft hangar at RAF West Raynham and adding to the mix in a unique space.
Top left: Nigel Skinner’s art Above: Nigel’s working space
A Bloodhound missile mounted at RAF West Raynham in 1970.
Top: Nigel Skinner
Above: Robin Massingham
Left: Creating bespoke joinery at Naked Kitchens
Above: James Crisp