Talented teenager carving out a career in joinery with Northumberland firm

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A teenager from Northumberland is carving out a career in the male-dominated world of joinery.

Sophie Allan, from Chathill, has been taken on as apprentice joiner by Beadnell-based Neil Hart.

The 19-year-old left school with 12 GCSEs and three A-Levels but decided university wasn’t for her.

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In late February she started as a sales assistant with estate agent George F White, in Alnwick, only to be laid off a month later due to the coronavirus lockdown.

Apprentice joiner Sophie Allan watched by colleague Christopher Ibbotson.Apprentice joiner Sophie Allan watched by colleague Christopher Ibbotson.
Apprentice joiner Sophie Allan watched by colleague Christopher Ibbotson.

It prompted a change of direction and Sophie chose to build on her practical talent with wood.

“I've always been interested in practical work, art, designing and making things, so in lockdown I bought myself a small CNC machine and started my Facebook page called ArtSea making engraved wooden plaques and slate signs,” said Sophie.

"This is where I met Neil. He was supplying me with offcuts of oak to make the plaques and wood so I could paint on.

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"I love art but I like the idea of painting on different materials – something a bit different. Orders started pouring in.

Sophie Allan at work in Neil Hart's workshop.Sophie Allan at work in Neil Hart's workshop.
Sophie Allan at work in Neil Hart's workshop.

“Whilst ArtSea is my hobby, Neil has very kindly given me the opportunity to join his team doing an apprenticeship.

“I know this is probably unknown territory in what is a predominantly a man's world and Neil maybe feels like he's taking a bit of a gamble with me but I’m keen and genuinely interested in learning the trade.

“I think there is too much emphasis and pressure nowadays on youngsters to stay on at school and go to university but for some, this just doesn't suit.

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“Hopefully one day when I'm qualified and time served maybe ArtSea could then expand.”

Neil formed NH Joinery in 2013 and has steadily expanded his team – but Sophie is his first female apprentice.

He said: “To recruit any apprentice in our area, and especially from the village, is a very difficult task.

“When Sophie discussed the idea of starting an apprenticeship I had no hesitation in taking her on.

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“Sophie is already very competent at many aspects of woodworking having taught herself key skills.

“However her attitude to work and keen eagerness to learn stand out above anything else.

“I have no doubt Sophie will develop into an outstanding tradesperson both during and upon completion of her apprenticeship.”

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