Stephen Coe has gone from working in the City to carving a new career out of…old pallets. Here he explains why his lifestyle had to change so dramatically…
The penny dropped that Stephen Coe might be working in a somewhat toxic environment when he walked into a London meeting and everyone looked at his wrist to check if he was wearing a Rolex.
Was he wearing one? ‘No,’ says Stephen, who lives in Raydon, on the Suffolk/Essex border. And this is one of the many reasons why Stephen is now known as the ‘guy doing the upcycling’ at Hadleigh Market, selling tea light holders created out of reclaimed pallets.
The main reason for leaving his London days behind him was what was happening in the world at large. ‘I was an HR consultant, but with Brexit, a piece of legislation called IR35 and COVID-19, the contract market had really dried up and companies were not looking to invest. Everybody I spoke to – all the agencies and contacts – said ‘phone us back in January 2021’.’
He was about to turn 50. ‘I was scratching my head, thinking ‘what the hell am I going to do?’.’ And then it came to him. ‘Last Christmas I made a Santa’s sleigh for the shop window of a charity shop. It was a favour to a friend, who then said, ‘you’ve got the equipment and the garage – why don’t you make it your business?’’ Stephen had already converted his garage into a workshop. ‘I made a workbench using a camping trestle table and a piece of plywood which came out better than I expected – that gave me the confidence to give it a go,’ says Stephen, who adds: ‘I haven’t got a woodwork background so it’s weird – I don’t quite know where it’s come from.’
Crafted by Greenwood aims to reduce waste one upcycled item at a time. ‘The name Greenwood was my mum’s maiden name. She died in 1997, of cancer. It makes me smile when I see my company name.’
Tea trays, wooden crates, potting tables, shelving and piano keys wall art – if it can be upcycled from reclaimed pallet wood, Stephen will turn his hand to it. He even does a shark. ‘I’m trying to work out how to turn the shark into a bathroom mirror, to encourage children to brush their teeth!’
He prides himself on the fact that everything is ‘local, handmade and unique and there’s been some care and attention gone into making it.’ No longer ‘swimming in the shark-infested waters of London’, Stephen adds, ‘it’s the best thing I’ve ever done. From a wellbeing perspective, I don’t wake up every morning and think ‘I’ve got to get on a train and go to London and be nice to people I don’t want to be nice to’.’
‘I was leaving the house before six in the morning. I’d get home, on a good day, by 8 o’clock. The commute took between an hour and a half and two hours, each way.
‘They were very long days and then at the weekend I was kind of like a zombie, getting in a bad mood by 7.30 on a Sunday evening, having to iron my shirt, find my cufflinks and polish my shoes. How my life has changed.’ Now, he eases himself into the day by enjoying an espresso on the patio with his partner.
There have been so many lifestyle changes for Stephen, who has two grown-up daughters, aged 26 and 24. ‘I’ve lost a stone in weight in lockdown, without going to the gym. I’ve gone from wearing a suit and tie to work to wearing work trousers from Screwfix. And I’ve gone from thinking ‘that’s a nice shirt’ to ‘that’s a nice power tool’.’
Stephen has invested in a Land Rover Defender pickup truck, ‘called Sebastian which does 0-60 in three days,’ whereas he used to drive a Mercedes-Benz GLC. ‘I wouldn’t swap back.
‘Personally, it’s the most rewarding job I’ve ever had. I’ve met so many brilliant people, already. As soon as you start talking about upcycling you either get ‘what a load of old rubbish’ or ‘that’s brilliant’.’
He’s looking at renting a small business unit, although he remarks: ‘I’ve got to sell a lot of tea light holders and sharks to cover the costs. It’s given me a renewed respect for rural small businesses, just how hard it is for them to operate and how important it is for people to support them. One of the benefits of lockdown was people having to go to local fruit and veg markets, and farm shops.’
So has he noticed anyone checking to see what watch he’s wearing, when he’s standing behind his stall? ‘Even if I owned a Rolex I wouldn’t wear it on the market!’
Crafted by Greenwood, call 07947 211802 or email email@example.com