Benchspace becoming city’s creativity and design centre

Benchspace becoming city’s creativity and design centre

Fergus Somers, of Benchspace in the Marina Commercial Park, Cork, is a furniture maker and teacher at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa. Picture: Dan Linehan

A NOT-FOR-PROFIT shared workshop in the heart of the city’s docklands is fast becoming a centre for creative design in Cork.

Benchspace, in the Marina Industrial Park, to local furniture makers and designers, particularly to graduates and early career professionals.

Influenced by similar concepts while working as a furniture maker in Australia, Seán Breen returned to Ireland in 2015 with the ambition of making Cork a hub where entrepreneurs, artists, designers, makers, creatives and techies, work together as part of a vibrant, productive and invigorating creative economy.

Fergus Somers, a furniture maker and teacher at Coláiste Stiofáin Naofa, shared Seán’s vision, and after both men met in May 2016, the chain of events that led to the opening of Benchspace was set in motion.

Seán’s drive to position Cork as a community of creative practice and a destination for international design saw him not only begin the process of establishing Benchspace, but simultaneously enrol in Cork University Business School’s MSc in Management and Marketing programme at UCC.

While such a workload might have proven a burden for some, the Benchspace director understood how both undertakings could be mutually beneficial.

By treating the start-up a live case study for assignments and groupwork, from the outset, Seán used the MSc in Management and Marketing as a means of developing the Benchspace vision.

Consequently, the GMIT lecturer at National Centre of Excellence for Furniture Design and Wood Technology in Letterfrack was able to use the feedback he received to refine the Benchspace concept.

The support of the lecturers and staff at CUBS also proved vital in developing Seán’s business acumen and enhancing his network.

Before he had even graduated, Sean was putting his newly acquired skills to work, marketing Benchspace on social media and reaching out to potential business partners.

Soon, both Tony Farrell, a former engineering lecturer in CIT and current chair of Cork Craft Design, and Alice Dooley joined Sean and Fergus Somers as directors at Benchspace.

Together, the quartet raised more than €8,000 through crowdfunding to buy equipment that would allow furniture makers start or grow their businesses at Benchspace.

Generous benefactors were also in a position to lend specialist machinery in order to provide newly qualified furniture makers with the resources they need.

As a result, the five furniture makers operating out of Benchspace already find themselves being kept busy from clients asking for custom built items. Their evening classes have proven to be a massive success.

Originally Seán anticipated staging one evening class before Christmas, but such has been the demand, Benchspace are now providing five. It isn’t just people interested in woodwork or DIY who attend. In fact, for the most part, Sean and the Benchspace team find themselves teaching IT professionals who are looking for something different.

Despite their lack of tools and experience, those who sign up for evening classes pick up the basics very quickly and leave with a self-made piece of furniture.

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