Former Norwich school worker’s new business really making a splash

Nick Hanington

Nick Hanington - Credit: Archant

A new Norfolk enterprise has transformed the humble canoe into artwork as well as a timeless form of transport.

For as well as becoming eyecatching adornments to waterways across the country Nick Hanington's wooden canoes have even been used in the interior design of a plush Manchester restaurant.

Mr Hanington, 27, was working with children with special educational needs at The Hewett School in Norwich when he began building canoes in his spare time, but he decided to focus on his lifelong passion for woodwork after going on a boatbuilding course in the Lake District 18 months ago.

The former pupil of Gresham's School, Holt, said: 'I decided to really push it about a year ago. I put photos of my early canoes online to gauge interest and found there was a lot of it.

'I completed my first order and when that customer rang me up I admit I was a bit nervous, was he going to say 'it's leaking', but in fact he told me his friend also wanted one.

'It was then I realised I could turn this into a niche business.'

Since then Mr Hanington has built 15 canoes, priced £675 to £825, in the barn of his parents' home in Weston Longville near Norwich.

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The canoes - 'really light and very aesthetically pleasing' - are crafted from marine plywood, using the African wood okoume.

Mr Hanington said: 'The appeal compared to fibreglass canoes is the look. They feel classier, look much nicer and certainly turn more heads on the river.'

As well as support from canoe enthusiasts, Mr Hanington was surprised to receive an order for four scaled down canoes to be used in the refit of a Manchester restaurant.

'They are 11ft long and have been used to hang from the rafters,' he said.

Mr Hanington has been supported in developing Weston Canoes by the Prince's Trust enterprise programme.

'I went on a four day enterprise course which gave me advice on everything from accounts and insurance to relevant law issues and marketing. That gave me the confidence to go ahead and start a business,' he said.

Mr Hanington also took advantage of a £3,000 loan from the trust and the help of one of its regional mentors, retired PR executive Paul Thomas.

Mr Thomas, who ran his own business and more recently edited the magazine Anglia Afloat, said: 'I was enthusiastic for him because I think canoeing on the Broads is so popular and growing so fast.'

He had been able to provide help in promoting the the business.

Mr Hanington said: 'I hope my story might help to encourage other young entrepreneurs to do something similar.

'It is still early days but if the orders keep coming in at the rate they are I'll certainly need to employ someone.'

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