A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

Goldfinger London furniture maker


As we celebrate our landmark 10 year anniversary, we are taking this opportunity to pause and reflect. Over the course of the year, we are sharing ten important lessons we've learned since our inception, as designers, makers, social entrepreneurs and educators.

Our fourth lesson celebrates an often overlooked part of the maker's journey: the beginning. Our experiences running the Goldfinger Academy have taught us that often the first steps prove to be the most difficult. However, as the Chinese proverb of our title suggests, all great things start with simple beginnings. Even our most experienced furniture makers once had to pick up their tools for the first time, make their first cut, and craft their first joint.

Our Goldfinger Academy fosters a communal learning space where craft can be practised and shared, regardless of the level of mastery. We create a safe environment for beginners to learn, make mistakes, and embark on their furniture-making journey.


Goldfinger Academy trainees
Goldfinger Academy spring traineeship
Future Makers trainees building a timber structure outside Trellick Tower


Young people were one of the groups most affected by the effects of the pandemic. Disrupted study schedules and home learning brought feelings of increased social anxiety and depression. Instead of being excited about the possibilities of the future, many young people felt that the world was closing in, and opportunities were disappearing. Disillusioned with traditional institutions, many looked for alternative ways to supplement their studies and learn practical skills for their future.

Through our Academy programmes, we have witnessed the transformative power of hands-on learning to empower young people to feel more confident to take those vital first steps. Last year, we ran a woodworking reparation programme for young offenders where we saw positive changes in their attitudes in just two days. As pieces of timber started to take recognisable shapes as stools and chairs, smiles started to appear on the previously closed-off faces, and exclamations of delight filled the room at the sight of the furniture they had built with their own two hands.

Our Future Makers traineeship empowers young people to become the sustainably-minded designers and makers of the future, by offering accessible paths into woodworking. One of our trainees, Theo, described feeling more anti-social since lockdown, and being hesitant about undertaking work experience. But his experience working alongside our furniture makers and his fellow trainees during our summer traineeship in 2022 gave him a boost in confidence, making him feel excited for the future and bringing him closer to his dream of becoming a carpenter.


Effy speaks with Riham in Goldfinger
Effy, Community Outreach Programme Manager at Goldfinger, speaks with Riham, one of our Future Makers trainees


We recently sat down with Riham, one of our Spring Future Makers trainees, where she shared her insight about the challenges and advantages of trying her hand at new things, overcoming the discomfort of using hand tools for the first time, weathering April showers while working alongside fellow trainees and coming out of the experience with a renewed sense of independence and focus.


Effy: Riham, you joined Goldfinger’s Future Makers programme in April, learning about traditional timber framing techniques and constructing a structure outside our Trellick Tower workshop. 
How did you find the experience of learning through making, and working outside with fellow trainees?
Riham: I greatly enjoyed working with my hands, whether to pound at a peg with a mallet, to twist and shake a post’s tenon into the mortise, to drill support beams to posts, to saw excess wood off support beams, or to ensure foundations were level. What made it all better was that the teamwork in our group was great; everyone was eager and encouraging and it made me feel so comfortable when using tools for the first time, like the drill and saw. Our leaders were patient and supportive. That also really made the difference to my confidence in attempting new things.

The team, headed by David and Effy who pushed us on, was so resilient. That was the best thing about this; I loved that we just got on with it, which ordinarily in bad weather I never thought I would’ve done. I found that working outdoors with my hands gave me a grit, a determination and focus that was different somehow to what I use in other work. I loved uncovering that.


Effy: What has this experience taught you about yourself?
Riham: Overall, it re-taught me the value of hard work and focus on what has been a relatively relaxed gap year; I was keen to learn and work that week and really enjoyed it, and will take that experience with me forwards.

It has also taught me that I can actually work practically, and made me reflect on what barriers had previously stopped me. Before, when I’d seen my Dad do various tasks around the house, I didn’t want to participate - partly because I didn’t want to learn then and didn’t fully appreciate the importance of learning practical skills, and partly because I felt that if I was to try I’d be awful, mess it up or would take too long. The teamwork-centred environment on Future Makers made me more open to learning and I was better able to face the fear of messing up or taking too long, as I had the support of peers; the other trainees and team leaders. After doing the traineeship, I can appreciate the confidence learning practical skills has given me and I feel more eager to participate and to continue learning at home.

In summary, the traineeship taught me why learning something completely new in a team can be beneficial, and that it is possible to get over that first barrier of confusion and discomfort that I was previously hesitant to try to overcome.


Goldfinger furniture makers in London
 Effy and Riham take a look at newly-finished tables in our furniture workshop


If you know someone who would be interested in taking their first steps into furniture making, applications are open for our next Future Makers traineeship, running from 23 August - 1 September 2023 in our West London workshop. Click here to find out more.



Author: Goldfinger

Contributors; Effy Harle, Community Outreach Programme Manager