"I learned to carve wood in lockdown - and it helped me put food on the table!"

Lee Furness has never underestimated the beauty of working with your hands.
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"We’re a creative household,” explains the 60-year-old.

"My wife is an artist and whenever we go on holiday, we like to take things with us to do some painting or drawing.

"Taking photographs is something else I enjoy immensely; these hobbies have brought me a lot of pleasure over the years.”

Lee FurnessLee Furness
Lee Furness
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But what Lee could never have imagined was that his creative hobbies would help to pay the bills and put food on the table when the coronavirus pandemic gripped the country back in the spring.

“I own a domestic cleaning company, and that ground to a halt virtually overnight when Covid-19 hit, I had zero income,” explained Lee, who lives with his wife in Nether Edge.

"At first, I set about embracing lockdown, doing all those DIY jobs that had been hanging about for too long – painting the shed, changing the handles on the kitchen cupboards – and going for long walks around the local area.

"It was about a month into lockdown when I suddenly realised I had no idea how long it was going to last.

Lee Furness's garden shed, where he's been working during lockdownLee Furness's garden shed, where he's been working during lockdown
Lee Furness's garden shed, where he's been working during lockdown
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"I was trying not to panic, but knew I had to work out how I was going to survive.”

It was while browsing YouTube a few days later that Lee saw a tutorial for wood carving which caught his eye.

"I’d taken a day-long workshop in wood carving decades before, and enjoyed it, so I decided I was going to try and learn a new skill,” says Lee, a grandfather of two.

"I got hold of some wood, and watched days and days of tutorials with this wonderful Canadian artist, Jordy Johnson.

Lee's birdhousesLee's birdhouses
Lee's birdhouses
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"I committed to doing at least one carving a day, and so that’s what I did.

"Within a few weeks, I realised I was improving.”

Lee posted a photograph of one of his favourite items, a wood spirit birdhouse he created, on Facebook, and almost immediately, orders from friends began rolling in.

"I couldn’t believe the response,” he smiles.

Lee's wood carvingsLee's wood carvings
Lee's wood carvings

"I began charging £50 per birdhouse, which I thought could seem expensive for a birdhouse, but since it was also a piece of artwork, I hoped people would think it was fair."

Today, Lee has sold nearly 40 birdhouses to customers all across the UK, as well as in Australia and America – all made from his own garden shed.

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Lee reveals he is unbelievably humbled by the way his new ‘cottage business’ has enabled him to stay afloat during the pandemic.

“There’s something really fundamental and satisfying about making something with your own hands, and then somebody buying it,” he says.

"It’s paid for the weekly food shop, and contributed towards household bills – it’s really gotten me out of a hole.

"People have started asking for other things now, so I’ve been branching out and trying my hand and making signs and all sorts of other things.

"I’m absolutely loving it.”

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