My name is Bob Duggan and I’m a Director of my own toymaking company called Wendover Wood; we sell to whoever will buy whether they live in the UK, Europe or anywhere else on the globe; I qualified with a Mathematics and Physics degree in 1974 and joined the NHS as a graduate supplies trainee specialising in Capital Equipment procurement. I’ve run my own business since 1989, I’ve been wood working since 1966 – I have an ‘O’ level in wood work which is the qualification I’m most proud of; I have a family with two boys, a lovely garden and workshop, I volunteer in the field of health, dementia care and suicide prevention; I love watching rugby, playing and being with my grandchildren and vegetable gardening.
1. What sparked your passion for making toys, and how did you turn it into a profession?
My father was an engineer (sounds like a Simon and Garfunkel song) so most of the toys we were given as children were metal or wooden, like Meccano, Hornby trains, lead soldiers, lead gardens etc (some of which were very unhealthy). A lot of the toys were mechanical and as I grew up, I turned into what my father called a fiddler. I loved taking things to bits to see how they worked – especially mechanical and electrical things. I also learnt not to throw things away! Not many went back together but it did lead to a useful understanding of what electrical parts did and whether they worked or not – a useful intro towards my Physics studies. Many years later, with two children of my own, our finances were somewhat limited so we set up a toy-making partnership with our next door neighbour – she would paint, I would design and make and Mrs D would string up and pack. Time moved on, my job in the NHS disappeared, and 14 years ago my hobby became my business – again to make ends meet but this time I had an employee, a laser machine and a workshop.
2. Could you describe the creative process behind designing a new toy? Where do you draw inspiration from?
My younger son, many years ago, had expressed a wish on his birthday list to have a toy that I had made. I had many toymaking books (pre-internet) and kept an eye out for good books in toy shops and book shops in Bath, where my in-laws lived. My list of publications is large and in one I found the patterns for a toy Oil Rig. I thought this is the one I’m going to make – with a working Derrick, a winch/crane and a helicopter. Everything I make or repair I have to like. I like restoring toys but making them safer and sustainable (generally wooden). Along the way I’ve learnt new skills which hopefully will allow traditional skills to be transferred to new generations. I do demos to schools and I love youngsters marvelling at some of the toys that I enjoyed when I was their age 3. What is your favourite part about being a toymaker?
Favourite part of being a toymaker is when a toy turns out to be better that you originally envisaged. The oil rig is still in one piece in the loft – its stronger and more resilient than I thought and it still has an appeal. 4. What is the most challenging part about being a toymaker?
Frustration with materials! Glue that doesn’t hold, paint not being bright enough, string or cord that breaks. Choice of material is therefore very important. One of the more recent challenges has been the supply of Baltic plywood – something Wendover Wood uses loads of. Unfortunately, the wood originates in Russia – the wood supply has been halted due to the conflict with Ukraine. We now use Poplar ply which whilst available, is three times the price it used to be.
5. Can you share a memorable experience where a child's reaction to one of your toys touched your heart?
I recently restored a toy garage which had been fettled up by a little boys grandad. The little boy wanted to know at regular intervals how I was getting on – at first I thought it was just his Mum chasing me up, but he genuinely wanted to know how I was getting on. Eventually he came to collect the garage with his Mum. He was so excited that he gave me a box of chocolates and nearly forgot to take the garage. He loved it! Another example was where a class of children that I visited all wrote to me saying thank you. One of the little boys told me that when he grew up he wanted to be a toymaker like me – rock on! That lad will go far!
Bye for now,
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