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Jack Tosney – Building an opportunity from a crisis

By May 31, 2021 June 2nd, 2021 Interviews-Leeds
Jack Tosney

Thanks to the Alwoodley community, Jack Tosney’s colourful garden benches became an overnight Facebook sensation. From films to furniture, we sit down with the 22 year-old carpenter to discover how he built an opportunity from a crisis.

With his runaway success as a carpenter, it may come as a surprise that Jack Tosney always wanted to be an actor: “I was absolutely shocking at woodwork at school and never considered it as a career. I heard Harrison Ford made his acting break fixing a cupboard for George Lucas. So as soon as I finished school, I took a job in a local set construction workshop. I started off sweeping floors and within a few days, I was asked if I wanted to learn the trade.”

Jack quickly developed an appreciation for woodwork, and has since grown to love the craft: “I was making sets for some of the biggest shows
in the world, Footloose, Flashdance, Jersey Boys – you name it – it was incredibly creative and colourful work.”

His talents took him to London’s Pinewood Studios where he helped build the set of the latest Marvel film. He’s sworn to secrecy on the details ahead of the release, but revealed he worked on “a life-sized spaceship to rival the Millennium Falcon.”

Once the film was wrapped, Jack was in the fortunate position of having the choice of working on Venom 2 or Fantastic Beasts 3. But before he made his decision (spoiler alert!) COVID swept the nation: “Production shut down and I needed to move back to my parents’ house in Alwoodley. I went from Hollywood to stacking shelves in Leeds Tesco in the space of weeks.”

In his spare time, Jack would make woodwork projects in his garage, including a giant eight-foot spider that lives in his front garden, which
he admits “attracts some attention.” But after making a bench for his siblings, his hobby suddenly turned into an overnight business
success: “Within a week of my mum sharing a picture on Facebook, I had over 60 orders. It was during the time where garden furniture was
extremely difficult to get hold of due to shipping delays. But the real reason for my success, was people’s desire to support local business. The
Alwoodley community has been brilliant. I shared my journey from the start in the Alwoodley Ward Residents Group, and they’ve been with me all the way.”

Jack soon had the idea of painting the benches in bright colours to order, and customers not only appreciated the personal touch that went into the construction, but the delivery too: “Whenever I can, I personally drive the piece to customers and put it together in front of them. It’s massive to those who potentially would struggle with flat pack. People appreciate that you’re taking the time to deliver it by hand and I hope it shows that every customer is important to me.”

Jack has since been inundated with requests from local hospitality businesses, and you can now find his work in pubs and restaurants across the city: “I think the popularity of my furniture boils down to the quality and the fact I don’t charge the earth for it. People have sat on my benches at The Myrtle Tavern and noticed the quality. They really are an investment, lasting you many years if cared for properly. I don’t want to be a part of this ‘throwaway society,’ and customers are equally conscious of the environmental impact of shipping furniture halfway across the world.”

In January, he rented a workshop in Wortley, an easily accessible space off the ring road with a view to turning it into a showroom so customers can see his works in person. Jack offers everything from dinosaurs, planters, outdoor bars for the grown-ups and mud kitchens for the kids, while also taking on bespoke commissions: “I’ve done a lot of custom jobs, from built-in wardrobes to a sweet shop in Chapel A, but I keep falling back into benches because they’re just so popular. “

Working in collaboration with The Myrtle Tavern, Jack is set to release an accessibility picnic bench, which allows wheelchairs to be positioned inclusively: “The idea is that you’re not excluding someone by putting them on the end and getting them involved into the group. I’ve spoken to those living with disabilities and so many say alfresco dining just doesn’t work for them. My new benches look good and are affordable, and hopefully it will encourage local hospitality to make that investment for their loyal disabled customers.”

Asked where he sees the business in five years’ time, he is keen to retain the sense of community that made it: “I want a bigger workshop to take the pressure off commercial orders, but I don’t want to strip away that the community element to the business which is so important to me – it’s about finding that balance.

“I was recently offered some business coaching, and I was told the idea is to get the business to a point where it runs itself. But I think that’s when you start to lose customers. I don’t want to sit in an office all day while everyone works for me. Until my back gives in, I’ve got no intention of slowing down.”

For the past year, Jack has been firing on all cylinders, working seven days a week. But since hiring a pair of assistants, he plans to take some
well-earned time for the important things in life: “My mum has been asking me for a picnic bench from day one. So next week, I’m going to take a day off to finally make her a really special bench, which will round off my first year in business nicely.”

To find out more, call 07956 198 945 or visit www.jacktosneyfurniture.co.uk