Meet Brian Allen

[This was a 400 word article I wrote for my neighbourhood’s local newsletter. It features Brian Allen, a local woodworker. I have two of his breadboards in my house, as do many people in the area!]

Woodworkers often set up shop in a garage or a side room. Brian Allen prefers to do his woodworking on a truck parked in front of his house so he can chat to his neighbours. “When I moved to Hataitai, suddenly I was having conversations all around the community. To this day, I can walk up the street and absolute strangers will say hello. That’s a lovely thing.”

Brian has been fascinated with trees and woodworking since his parents took him to the Kauri forest as a young boy. Soon after, a teacher cultivated his interest in trees. The two ended up spending so much time on wood that his other studies suffered. “I just fell in love with it.”

This passion led him to a career as a woodworking teacher. “Working with kids is something I absolutely, thoroughly enjoyed, which is why I did it for so long. But then I discovered that the classroom is only a space.” Over time, Brian focused his efforts on the educational curriculum across New Zealand. “Soon, the country became my classroom,” with a special focus on integrating traditional teaching techniques with materials work.

These days, Brian often finds bits of wood left by neighbours on his truck, and enjoys matching them to meaningful projects. One family cleared plywood out of their garage and Brian was able to convert the materials into planter boxes for their garden. Another project converted reclaimed timber from a house alteration into breadboards for the family. “I think it’s a nice thing for people who have lived in a house, to be able to take away something which for them is special.”

Towards the end of our interview, Brian runs his hands across a beautiful wooden table in his kitchen, and teaches me about the tree it came from, the characteristics of it, and the imperfections that bring out its character. With the ease of a lifelong teacher, he uses it as a metaphor for communities, and what it means to be human. Even in the face of adversity.

“Challenges happen all throughout our lives. It’s a question of turning them ‘round to beautiful things. If we have a close look at some of the items on the back of the old truck, they’ve got flaws in them. But that’s what gives them their strength. That’s what makes them special.”

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