How a father and son team have fired up a successful crafts business near Harborough

Their pottery and sculpture studio is taking off again after the long Covid lockdowns

Friday, 29th October 2021, 10:18 am
Bob and Joe Stafford of Shire Workshops in Wilbarston. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

Bob and Joe Stafford are really going to pot as they stoke up their booming father and son crafts business in a village near Market Harborough.

The fired-up Staffords now have up to about 150 devotees on their books as their pottery and sculpture studio in Wilbarston takes off with a bang after the long Covid lockdowns.

And evergreen Bob, 72, is making headlines all over again after he famously became the first patient in the UK to receive two revolutionary implants for arthritic thumbs.

Bob and Joe Stafford teaching during a workshop day in Wilbarston. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“My thumbs are absolutely fine now I’m glad to report – it genuinely is a case of thumbs up all round,” smiling Bob told the Harborough Mail.

“And I couldn’t be happier now as the thriving enterprise I run here with my son Joe, 33, goes from strength to strength.

“We have been here for 10 years at The Shire Workshops and we are on a fantastic rustic site in Wilbarston.

“I live just 200 yards away so I can walk here on a morning inside five minutes – it couldn’t be better,” said the retired teacher.

Bob and Joe Stafford of Shire Workshops in Wilbarston. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“It’s almost as if I’m working away in my own back garden!

“Joe is a very talented carpenter and joiner but he’s also a tremendous artist and he’s really getting into sculpture and pottery alongside me now.

“It’s just incredible how many people are keen to come along and get into what we do here.

“We must have up to about 150 people on our books with around 60-75 of them very active at any time,” said Bob, who used to teach at Market Harborough C of E primary school and was deputy headteacher at the town’s Ridgeway school.

Joe Stafford with Rebecca Brown in the workshop at Wilbarston. PICTURE: ANDREW CARPENTER

“We get men, women and teenagers coming from all over South Leicestershire and across the Northamptonshire border.

“And we get all ages, heading all the way up to many retired students in their 70s and 80s.

“We upgraded and revamped our studios during the coronavirus lockdown and it’s paying off as people are flocking here.

“People are just loving learning how to throw a pot and create their own sculptures and works of art.

“Our evening class courses are two months long – and they cost £125 plus materials,” said Bob, who also specialised in special education teaching youngsters with autism.

“People are busy now creating their own one-off Christmas presents.

“What could be better than giving your families and friends an amazing pot or sculpture than you have created yourself?

“It really does make that festive gift extra special – and it doesn’t get much better than that.

“People are proud of what they do and achieve here – and it gives me and Joe an enormous sense of satisfaction and fulfilment to help them,” said Bob, a father-of-two.

“My passion has always been arts and crafts, it’s what I studied at teacher training college many years ago along with drama.

“So I decided to follow my heart when I was made redundant in 2012 after an unforgettable 35 years in teaching locally.

“I started out on my own working away in the beloved 'man shed' in my garden.

“And so many other villagers as well as people from outside became interested in what I did that I began to expand – with Joe very much following in my footsteps.

“People love working with their own hands and creating their own products.

“In other words, doing what people have done on this earth for tens of thousands of years.

“Life doesn’t get any more visceral or grounded than that,” said Bob.

“We’ve even had people who have come here who have gone on to set up their own home studios with wheels and kilns.

“They are starting to sell their own pieces and are working towards a change of career.

“That’s just unbelievable to see how it’s transformed their day-to-day lives.

“We do special sculpture days and have just staged a permanent pumpkin day in the run-up to Halloween.

“Pottery and sculpture are very mindful pursuits, they are extremely therapeutic.

“You can lose yourself as you work away with your hands.

“We tag what we do here at the Shire Workshops an oasis of creativity – and that’s exactly what we are.

“You start out with a lump of clay, you fire it and glaze it, you create something truly beautiful.

“It’s a huge thrill to do that.

“We also run Raku workshops,” added Bob.

“Raku is an ancient Japanese firing technique, working with lots of fire and smoke – it’s all action and supremely exciting.

“You can create amazingly colourful and metallic effects and achieve stunning results.

“Older people thoroughly enjoy attending our classes because they are having to totally focus on what they are doing as they stretch their minds in new ways.

“They are learning exceptional new skills and talents while also engaging and inter-acting with other very friendly and like-minded people alongside them.

“Pottery, sculpture and art are outstandingly feelgood crafts to learn and practise and it’s brilliant that Joe and I can pass on our love for them and our skills on to so many other people,” stressed Bob.

If you’ve been fired up and would like to throw a pot or get totally hands on with Bob and Joe, you can check out their website here: