New wood-turning career delights former Harwell engineer

Herald Series: Richard Shock with one of his pieces Richard Shock with one of his pieces

Looking at the broad range of elegantly carved bowls, dishes and pieces of art that Richard Shock produces gives no clue as to the background of their creator.

In fact Richard Shock has only been a full-time wood-turner for the last nine years and only tried his hand at it in 2000.

Before that he had spent 37 years at Harwell in the business which became known as AEA Technology.

He explained: “My father died in 1998 and he had been given a lathe to help him make furniture.

“I brought it to Oxford and then took classes at Lord Williams’s School in Thame where I made bowls. Then in 2002 my wife Kathy was doing the Artweeks exhibition and I thought: ‘This is definitely fun.”

His new interest helped him reflect on his career and which direction he would like to take in the future.

“I had been at Harwell for 35 years and I was being posted all over the world speaking on behalf of Her Majesty. But I was beginning to feel I was not enjoying it.”

As a result, he decided to retire three years early and turn his hobby into a new career.

“I took a hit on my pension so I wanted to take it seriously because I needed the money.

“But I was also selling to individuals and I liked the interaction and direct feedback as well as the cheque paid immediately.

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“I think that having been part of a business and seen the marketing and quality control I wanted to go into it in a professional way.”

Having been accepted as a registered professional turner through the Worshipful Company of Turners, he continued to build his skills and develop his product range, eventually perfecting his own style.

He also invested in a good website and decided that he was going to ensure his products were properly packaged and presented.

His work is sold through his own website and another, Seek and Adore, which specialises in top level craft pieces. Last November and December he sold more than 30 items.

Now he is trying to develop interest in his work further afield and is currently part of an exhibition in Taunton, Somerset.

It is all a far cry from the chemical engineering graduate who in 1968 went for a summer job at the Atomic Research Establishment, which then sponsored him to take a PhD at Oxford University’s Department of Engineering Science.

“After four years someone said there was a permanent job going and I couldn’t think of anything better to do. I had intended to go for eight weeks and ended up staying 37 years.”

He became a specialist in energy and worked in Brussels attached to the European Commission.

“When I started, we were presenting results in terms of the amount of oil a piece of technology would use.

“By 1989 that had changed to the amount of carbon being emitted.”

At 66, Mr Shock would have retired from his profession but now nothing could be further from his thoughts.

Every day he can be found in the garden shed of his Oxford home and his new career dovetails nicely with that of Kathy, a townscape artist.

“When we got married nearly 40 years ago I was a chemical engineer and she was a secretary.

“We have grown together,” he said.

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