Steel man Ben gets leg up into furniture design thanks to new uni hotel

Steel man Ben gets leg up into furniture design thanks to new uni hotel

19 July 2017

Sheffielder Ben Thompson has stepped out of the steelworks and into business as a furniture-maker thanks to landing a life-changing contract with the city’s new hybrid hotel.

The career change for Ben came after he spotted an Instagram shout-out from the soon to launch Jonas Hotel, appealing for local makers.

Jonas will be the first university-run venture in the UK to house students and visitors under one roof and boasts a vibrant and quirky interior design featuring local artwork and up-cycled industrial-style furnishings.

Ben responded to the appeal and his successful tender for over 50 items of hand-made furniture enabled him to turn the tables on his years in the steel industry.

Ben, 32, of Meersbrook, had to take a job on a steel factory floor after his degree in film and moving image production failed to get him into a media job.

He worked his way up to sales with steel stockholder AMS Metals in Barnsley but always wanted to do something more creative.

I’d tried to get out of the steel sector when the company I worked for went into liquidation but ended up out of work for nine weeks,” said Ben. “When the takeover company offered me a job I had to take it.” 

Added the father of one: “Making furniture was a hobby I was passionate about. I wanted to turn it into a business but leaving a good job to go self employed was a big risk. When I saw the Jonas Instagram message I thought it was worth a shot and my steel career meant I know how to tender.

“When I got the contract I was thrilled but also shocked, as I was still employed full-time.”

Ben left his job on the strength of the order and set to work in the workshop he hand-built at bottom of his garden.

He is designing and making tables, benches and stools from reclaimed wood, steel and copper piping for the Jonas Hotel’s communal kitchens, dining areas and social spaces where students, business people, visiting academics and tourists will come together.

The communal living concept is being developed by UNICUS, the University of Sheffield’s commercial arm, at its former 90s-built student accommodate block Jonas Court in the leafy Endcliffe Village Campus. It is based on a successful model in Amsterdam.

“Unfortunately my degree didn’t allow me to get into the career I wanted, but 10 years down the line, landing this university contract has,” said Ben, whose fledgeling company BCT Furniture has already picked up several new orders, including one for Sheffield events company The Hide.

Andy Flowers, general manager of the Jonas Hotel commented: “Ben’s ideas and talents fitted exactly with the design ethos at Jonas, which opens on August 6.

“We are delighted the contract has enabled him to step into self-employment. The university is all about creating futures and encouraging entrepreneurs. We wish him every success and may commission more pieces from him in the future.