Made in Nor­folk

The old air­craft base that’s now a craft base

EDP Norfolk - - Inside - www.westrayn­ham­busi­ness­ www.nor­ www.nigel­skin­ner­

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: Nigel Skin­ner

Above: Robin Mass­ing­ham

Top left: Nigel Skin­ner’s art Above: Nigel’s work­ing space Left: A Blood­hound mis­sile mounted at RAF West Rayn­ham in 1970.

Left: Cre­at­ing be­spoke join­ery at Naked Kitchens

Above: James Crisp

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