Pauline for President

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					                                                        Issue Date: 20 April 2007

Pauline for President

The new president of the British Woodworking Federation, Pauline
Kelly, is passionate about training and will make it one of her
priorities during her term of office. Mike Jeffree talks to the first
woman president of the BWF about her enduring love of the industry.

Pauline Kelly makes one thing quite clear “I‟m not a joiner and never have
been. I came into the industry for the simple reason that I married a
carpenter”. Thirty or so years later she finds herself at the helm of the
UK‟s leading representative body for the woodworking industry, with
training high on her list of presidential priorities.

Brought up in Bradford, Pauline left grammar school at sixteen. Her first
job was matching dyes in a local factory, but she soon followed in her
grandfather‟s footsteps - working for British Rail. A transfer to London led
to her meeting her husband Liam, a carpenter who had learned his trade
from his father who had moved from Ireland to the North East in search of
work in the 1950s. Together they set up their first business, a carpentry
contracting company. As the company grew so did the demand for joinery.
Pauline remembers times when their garage and even the front room of
their North London home were requisitioned as joinery workshops. “We
were moving more and more into joinery and we had to make a decision
about where we wanted to take our business”. In 1981 a golden
opportunity presented itself. E.A. Higginson, a second generation family
firm making general joinery, was put up for sale. The third generation of
the family was just not interested in the business. Despite high interest
rates and a tough business environment, Pauline and Liam jumped at the
chance, buying the company along with a retirement age machinist, still
working in Imperial measurements.

Pauline agrees that, given the difficult economic situation, it was a risky
venture and she acknowledges the help of a sympathetic bank manager in
getting them through some hard times. “We had the kind of relationship
which meant that our bank would give us a friendly call if the overdraft was
looking stretched and I would usually have had cheques in the post to
reassure them.” Now the company, which has gained a reputation for high
quality timber staircases, employs around 25 people and continues to
expand in its Colindale premises.

The purchase of E.A. Higginson marks the beginning of Pauline‟s
involvement with the British Woodworking Federation. “We inherited
Higginson‟s membership of a building trade association” says Pauline “but
quite by accident I found some papers from the British Woodworking
Manufacturers Association - I still have them. By the time we actually
joined it had become the British Woodworking Federation”.

With Liam mostly out on the road, Pauline took control of the day to day
management of the company. Busy order books meant that there was not
much participation in BWF activities to begin with. However, a chance
conversation with another member catapulted Pauline into a much more
active role, starting her on the path to BWF Presidency. That
conversation, with a technical contact at Boulton and Paul, centred on
some major changes to the Building Regulations. “I did not know anything
about this” says Pauline “so I got hold of the document myself.” “My next
thought was that, as a trade association, the BWF should be telling
members about something so important, that‟s their job, so I got on the
telephone to the technical manager at the time.”


“At the end of a lengthy conversation he invited me to the next Technical
Committee meeting, probably to get me off the „phone!” That was in 1990
when the BWF was a very different organisation from the one we have
today. For a start it was much more formal and I have to say I found the
meetings quite daunting and did not say much, being the only female in the
room did not help.”

From her early involvement on the Technical Committee Pauline has been
one of the driving forces behind the development of the British
Woodworking Federation into the modern, participative and active
organisation that it is today. “I think the BWF today is a great example of
what a good trade association should be “ she says “and the quality of our
technical support for members is second to none.” I am so proud to be its
president - when we started the business all those years ago I would never
have dreamt of being president of the industry‟s trade association.”

The inevitable question, and one she says everyone asks, is about what
she wants to achieve during her term of office. There‟s no hesitation in
answering. She cites three main areas of focus - training, something very
close to her heart, the BWF‟s Code of Conduct and member numbers.

“I want to make training a major theme of the BWF‟s work. I‟m not just
talking about teaching people how to use their hands and operate
machinery. I am talking about understanding timber, this wonderful raw
material we work with, being aware of British Standards and learning how
to cope with the day to day running of a business. “

“Our industry is crying out for training, both in terms of quality and quantity
and it‟s time to do something about it. I am championing the WIT Forum -
our new Woodworking Industry Training Forum - we are already getting our
members behind it and I think it will make a real difference to training
provision over the next five years. This initiative is a major step in
establishing relevant and accessible training provision across the UK”.

Next on Pauline‟s list is the BWF‟s Code of Conduct. “This is such a
potentially powerful endorsement” says Pauline. “I want to see compliance
with the Code as a requirement of tender documents and for people like
self builders to look for BWF members when they are purchasing products.
Joinery companies need to see the Code as a powerful marketing tool,
providing credibility and reassurance about sound business practices
across the board. It is one of our most valuable assets.“

Last but not least Pauline turns her attention to membership. “The BWF
must rank as one of the best trade associations in the country - the
membership benefits are there for all to see. More members will mean that
we can do even more to help grow our industry through improved training
and higher standards.”

She may not be a joiner but Pauline knows a lot about the industry and
is passionate about the role that the BWF plays in driving it forward. “I want
to make my mark” she says “not because I am the first woman president,
it‟s not about that, but because I really believe that the continuing
improvement of industry standards is the way to raise our profile and I want
to be part of that process.”