Our Story

Wood & Wire founders Tim Shillitoe and Jim Leach

We accidentally made it

We never really set out with big ideas. Seriously. Talk to locals who know Jim or Tim and they’ll tell you what modest, chilled-out guys they both are. Amazing talents, yes. Decent and ethically-minded, certainly. Super-busy head honchos at a rapidly growing business, probably not, if we’re honest. And then suddenly here we are: it’s 2020 and we’ve got an order book bursting at the seams and a staff of 12 to pay, train and look after. And guess what…Jim and Tim are the guys at the helm.

Hebden Bridge - Canal

Lucky Jim (and Tim)

So, where did it all go right? The answer is here in Hebden Bridge, in more ways than one. That’s because the story of Wood & Wire is partly a story of right place, right time. We’re not saying we haven’t worked our socks off (we have) or that our work isn’t worth every penny (it is). It’s just that like pretty much any business that survives its first few years, we’ve had our fair share of luck. And some of that luck has been about being here.

Creator: Ian Britton
Credit: FreeFoto.com
Copyright: FreeFoto.com

Jim Leach operating machinery

In the beginning…

In 2005 Jim lost his job as a furniture designer. With a young family, commuting for hours or relocating just didn’t fit with his plan, or with his interest in sustainability and localism. At the same time, freelance design work wasn’t flowing so freely after all. So, Jim rented a cheap-as-chips workshop and followed his heart, designing and making plywood furniture. Jim’s Dad mucked in too, and with this extra support, Jim designed, made and fitted a kitchen in the old family home. We didn’t know it then, but this would become the signature kitchen of Wood & Wire.

Tim Shillitoe on the beach with friends

Meanwhile…

Tim, on the other hand, had been busy doing his own thing on the other side of the world. A fully trained cabinetmaker and joiner, mad about the outdoors and nature, Tim had lived and worked in New Zealand and also travelled a lot in Japan. Now he was back in the UK with his own little workshop, fitting out campers and doing amazing things with plywood for a bunch of local customers.

CNC getting delivered to the Wood & Wire workshop

New toys

Now Jim’s not daft, and he knew that he needed more kit to help his business grow: he’d been borrowing a friend’s panel saw up until now. Just before he signed on a loan, some decent used machinery cropped up through a friend of a friend. Bingo! A new lease of life for some nice old machines. Thousands of pounds saved. And no loan required. Happy days. The new machine wasn’t just a good deal, it was a big deal, because commercially it opened up doors (as well as helping make a few).

Wood & Wires first kitchen project

Merger on the dancefloor

A mutual friend introduced Jim and Tim on a big night out in Hebden (big enough to not remember where or when it was). Anyway, Tim needed help on a kitchen project that was too big to take on alone, and their shared love of ply made Jim a perfect match. With some sketches and a photo of Jim’s previous kitchen success, the customer was persuaded to invest in a bold new design for their family kitchen. Luckily, this customer had an eye for detail and a creative vision, and was confident that together Tim and Jim could deliver. No pressure then.

Wood & Wire shop signage

Off our shopping trolleys

It’s all about word of mouth in Hebden, and an electrician friend of Jim and Tim wanted to open a lighting retail space right here in town. The space he found was too big just for him, so he invited Tim and Jim to share it. That whole electrical thing was the ‘wire’ in Wood & Wire, and so the business was officially born. The electrician buzzed off soon after, but we decided to give the shop a go, even with zero retail management experience. Risky? For sure. Crazy? Probably. The right move in the long run? Most definitely. Long story short, Tim’s wife Ako, who’d just had a baby, turned this shop into our first ever showroom.

Wood & Wire team Jim, Tim and Ben

You’re hired!

The showroom was doing its job by getting us jobs. Next, we took on Ben – our first apprentice. Keen as mustard and quick to learn, in no time he was a key member of the team. Tim and Jim learned a thing or two from him as well, like the benefits of training people from scratch: no bad habits, top quality work, Wood & Wire in their genes. The workshop was getting cramped by now though. Luckily, a friend of a friend (yes, another one) was looking to set up a co-working space. Now Jim and Tim are Yorkshire through and through, so they love a good bargain. One quick look and we moved right in.

Flooding inside Hebden Bridge showroom

Water over the bridge

The year kicked off well, with a shiny new website and a flurry of new customers. All good. What no one saw coming was the apocalyptic Christmas weather. We’re used to rain here, but this was something else, and the Boxing Day floods of 2015 caught everyone off guard. Like many in town, our shop was ruined and business came to a halt – we were devastated. Even the biggest, blackest Pennine clouds have a silver lining, though. The way our community pulled together was bonkers, with friends, neighbours and total strangers helping each other like never before. That’s community for you, and it made us proud as punch to be a part of it. It also nudged sustainability even further up our agenda.

Ako Shillitoe climbing

Testing times

With the shop shut and loss adjusters in, we discovered structural damage that meant the building was unusable without a giant investment we couldn’t afford. Then, on a Shillitoe family holiday, disaster really struck. A rock climbing accident almost killed Tim’s wife Ako, leaving her with multiple fractures, nerve damage and brain damage. She was put in an induced coma for a whole month, and it was another three before she came home. It never rains but it pours, they say. We’re generally an optimistic bunch at Wood & Wire, but even we were beginning to wonder. Her recovery has been slow and painful, but Ako’s back on her feet and doing amazingly now.

Hebden Bridge handmade parade

Right place, right time

Like we said at the start, there’s an element of luck in our story. Firstly, we’re lucky that Jim and Tim found each other (aww, cute). We’re also lucky that Hebden Bridge is the sort of place where a different kind of business like ours could really thrive. Hebden’s always been a bit leftfield – a place where people think independently and do their own thing. There’s a strong ethical and environmental undercurrent here too, and the community really cares about things like supporting local businesses and buying sustainable, long-lasting products. Add in the rich creative vibe this town is famous far, and it’s easy to see why a firm like ours fits right in.

Wood & Wire team

Where we’re at now

We took a new showroom in October 2016 and we’ve been here ever since, just down Market Street in the middle of town. Our workshop’s going great as well, though with a busy team of twelve, we might need more space in the nearish future. We’ve got some amazing new product ideas to develop, and we’re looking at ways of making our business even more sustainable – we can’t say any more just yet, but watch this space. Last but not least, if you’re one of our customers waiting for a kitchen, we’re busy cracking on with it as you read this…