Meet The Brains Behind Bristol Upholstery Collective
If you have been paying attention to the Bristol interiors scene over the last few years you will probably already know about the award winning Bristol Upholstery Collective, but unless you are an avid daytime TV watcher you may not be familiar with the face behind the brand. A vision in her signature teal threads and red hair, Leigh-Anne Treadwell is the driving force of BUC and often appears on the BBC upcycling show Money For Nothing, transforming furniture items recovered from the tip. I caught up with Leigh-Anne to find out more about well, her, and her extraordinary journey from art student to business owner and TV personality.
Life Before BUC
Leigh-Anne, tell us how you spent your time in the pre-upholstery days?
“I made things. All kinds of things. Unimaginable things. My Fine Art practice was extremely varied, using sculpture, video, installation and performance as my mediums, to explore interactive and playful meaning. After my degree, I worked as a community artist in South Wales. I enjoyed mentoring and connecting people, communicating meaning through art and appreciating the shared creative environment. It was fun, purposeful and different everyday. I moved back to Bristol in the hope of setting up an Arts Collective that would deliver community consultation and interactive art projects all over the south west, and ended up managing the world famous Old Duke jazz pub. I’d ‘had a go’ at recovering the seats at The Old Duke and realised there were tricks to this trade, so I studied upholstery for three years, one day a week, whilst running the pub.”
With a wealth of experience teaching English overseas and facilitating art workshops Leigh-Anne soon began imparting her upholstery knowledge in evening classes which she ran for a time at her own art studio. Determined to combine her dream of opening a craft and wellbeing social enterprise with creative upholstery, Leigh-Anne began searching for a space with a shop front that was large enough to act as an incubator hub for other newly qualified upholsterers. This way they would be “able to shout louder, brighter and achieve more together - more so than any of us could have as individuals starting off. With a lot of hard work, resourcefulness, skill, vision and determination, it grew from there.”
Getting started was extremely difficult and anyone less tenacious would have likely given up.
“Without any credibility, only a business plan and projections of an idea, I just didn’t seem to capture any landlords’ interest to take me on as an ambitious tenant. After meeting with fellow social entrepreneur Emma (Director of Bristol Textile Quarter), expressing the challenges I was being presented with after a year of repeatedly pitching my idea she called me and said ‘you are about to receive a phone call. Answer it and say YES!’ That phone call was from Bridget who ran a fabric shop in Old Market. I raced to see her within 20mins and I had 24 hours to make my decision to take on the space. I remember thinking ‘it’s not what I had envisioned’ but it was a start!”
Money For Nothing
As a rare breed who doesn’t own a television Leigh-Anne had no idea about the BBC TV programme Money For Nothing until her mum called her and insisted she watched it. Serendipitously, just two weeks later the producers found the BUC website and invited the team to a successful Skype audition.
“Our first ever TV project was two winged arm chairs that I had the idea of joining in the middle, face to face. Feeling pretty nervous about tackling such an idea with the camera watching and waiting for a TV worthy hiccup, we built the frame, adding features, creating a shape that looked very much like a cross between a love seat and a roll top bath, that we nicknamed the lovetub. Once sprung and ready we realised that we couldn't fit it out through the door!”
Undeterred by nerves or gaffes Leigh-Anne has continued to appear on the show across several series.
“It truly is a blessing to be able to educate and express my excitement about what I do to a huge audience. I love the challenge of creating TV-worthy transformations, using the show as a platform to promote local artists and collaborating with independent designers. The Money For Nothing team, Sarah Moore, Jay Blades and EJ Osbourne are the most excitable and talented people I’ve ever met, and its a joy to work with them.”
Helping People Realise Their Chair Dreams
The creations seen on the TV show are a taste of what can be made at BUC which has developed to become an Association of Master Upholsterers approved training centre. As such Leigh-Anne and the team now deliver a three year diploma to those looking to start a career in the creative upholstery.
Leisure learners can bring along a chair, complete an intensive project weekend or learn how to sew cushions.
“We enable and empower people to be the best they can be by helping to identify and develop their own uniqueness and celebrate creative flair. We help people realise their chair dreams. The creative learning environment here at Bristol Upholstery Collective is incredibly important. The community of staff, students and collaborators is extremely welcoming and always inspiring. There’s a real buzz. Locals quite often pop their heads in to thank us for our presence on the Totterdown Wells Road. Our window displays bring pride and excitement to the community.”
What’s next for BUC?
“Retail! We’re launching an online statement chair shop with a series of our own product designs. We’re also selling student works to financially support their training, and teach basic enterprise skills to springboard their business practice.
A new exciting course is also in development - Fabric Design! Our students will be able to create completely unique and creative pieces!”
In all, the scale of the community Leigh-Anne has built along with Harriet and Tom at BUC is a huge achievement, and the impressive output from the mind of one woman on a mission.
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