We are fortunate to have a number of international members here at Woodturners Unlimited and now have the opportunity to get to know one of them a bit better as Les Symonds has agreed to be profiled for our “Behind the Art” series. Les was born on December 5th 1952 in Pontyclun, a little village in South Wales. “My mum was artistic, but grew up in an age (and in a family) where ladies were not encouraged to have interests outside the family home. She was an accomplished knitter and often held council with neighbours who would bring their knitting disasters to our home for her to put right. If I inherited a single ounce of artistic ability, then this must be where it came from.”

“When I was in my pre-school years, we lived in a social-housing development on a hill on the outskirts of our village. One of my neighbours had a niece, Sally, who used to call to visit them and I first met her when I was just three or four years old. This was to be a relationship that developed as the years went by and we eventually got engaged and married….next year will be our 40th wedding anniversary. We have one son, Huw, who lives nearby and is a food and house services manager at a local hotel, and our part-time volunteer shop keeper on occasional days.”

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Les has always had an interest in art and won a national competition while in junior school though describes getting very little encouragement from his teachers who suggested he pursue other career paths. While he has worked at a number of jobs, he has always found a way to come back to art and teaching, clearly his two passions. “My working life started in 1972. I had been training to be a woodwork teacher, but teaching posts were few and far between and I was becoming a bit disillusioned with my career choice. I had a summer holiday job in an import/export warehouse which paid better than what I could have expected as a teacher, so the next thing you know, I abandoned my plans to teach and became a warehouse and dispatch manager. About ten years later, British Industry went into decline and my wife and I, along with Huw, our 22-month-old toddler, decided to move away from the industrialized area that we lived in to a far more rural area in the north of Wales. For about the next ten years I did a bit of carpentry and kitchen fitting and even ran my own business making exhibition and display cabinets for galleries, shopping malls and theatres. In 1994, I took a position in a children’s home, caring for children in the 11-19 year old bracket, who had a moderate to severe learning disability, and severely challenging behavior. I really took to that work and soon rose through the ranks to become a team leader after which I was transferred from the care team to the education team. As the years passed I continued to develop my career by going to night school on a course franchised by the University of Wales, to gain the teaching certificate and degree that I had formerly opted out of so many years earlier. I achieved my Certificate in Education and Training, with distinction, and my Bachelor’s Degree in Education and Training, with First Class Honours.”

Having worked his way back to teaching, Les was again able to bring art into his curriculum. “I specialized in teaching a group of 16 to 19 year olds, the social and life skills that they would need when they left the children’s home. Art and woodwork always featured quite highly in my curriculum and we embarked on projects that most of the staff thought were far too advanced, but which always came to fruition. I loved boating and would teach basic boat handling skills to my boys, and at one point I bought a 40 ft long, narrow-boat which was in a dreadful condition, but I set up a work experience scheme for one of my boys and between us we transferred a rusting hulk into our dream boat, complete with saloon, galley, bedroom and bathroom.We would enter the boat into numerous waterways festivals and won first prize for themed artistic displays on several occasions.”

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This career path seemed to be working well for Les until last year when he had what turned out to be a life changing event. “The severity of the young people I worked with was always a challenge but became more so when the owners of the home brought to live there, a young man with a serious mental health disorder. Such was his behavior that in June of 2014 I was rather badly assaulted, an event which left me lapsing in and out of consciousness and having seizures for a half hour or so. I was unable to work for several months and throughout this period being able to spend time on my lathe was a major factor in my fight against depression following the assault.”

Like many of us, Les was first introduced to the lathe in school. About 10 years later, he picked up a lathe and briefly turned some utilitarian items before selling it. In 2012, he saw an ad for a lathe, bought it, and hasn’t looked back since. “At the beginning of this year I made a decision not to return to my teaching career and my wife Sally and I decided to set up our own small business. I had been selling some of my wood turnings through local hotels and galleries, and was disillusioned by the amount of money that I was losing through commission. This coincided with there being an empty property on our High Street and very favourable terms for new business start-ups, so we took the plunge and set up ‘Pren’ (Welsh for WOOD).”

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Monday the 19th. Thanks for visiting Woodturners Unlimited.