Move Slow & Make Things – Rowden Atelier

Move Slow & Make Things

Here’s to humanity. Why Rowden remains just as social, just not on social media.
students in the workshop on a furniture design making course at Rowden Atelier, UK fine woodworking school

Rowden started utilising Instagram in 2014. The platform was on its way ‘up,’ and getting onto this platform seemed to be a savvy thing to do, increasing awareness of our founder, David Savage, our woodworking school and, most importantly, connecting us with woodworkers worldwide. Naturally, we have an active desire to be part of a community around our shared passion, so it was a no-brainer.

Posting required effort, but it felt manageable and would put Rowden in front of woodworkers unaware of our atelier. Instagram and platforms like it promise to enable community and connection with others who share our love for craftsmanship and excellence. Social media implies it will bring you closer to others; all you need to do is feed the platforms with content.


However, when David Savage died a few days after the end of 2018, we naturally paused and took stock as a group; we considered everything we were doing and why we were doing it – the courses, the workshop and the mission.

No matter which lens we looked through, we could boil it down to one overarching question: ‘Does this action move our students closer to their goals?’. This metric was the best possible yardstick we could find; it cut through the noise of preferences, habits, and past effort and focused us on the signal of what was the best thing to do for our students.

When it came to social media, it felt like it deserved special dispensation; surely, this was a critical portion of any marketing strategy, and we wanted to make the world aware of Rowden. 

piston fit drawers, made on a furniture making course at Rowden Atelier

However, we put aside its pervasiveness and the effort we’d already put into social platforms and looked for evidence of it making measurable returns for craftspeople, both Rowden-trained and beyond. It quickly became clear that social media was unlikely to help our students become professional craftspeople and, surprisingly, could even hinder that process. Since then, our relationship with social media has changed permanently.

The downsides of taking effort away from teaching to give to Instagram or platforms like it were many. Social media suggested we would see ‘engagement’, and it would increase awareness of our workshop. Yet, there was no evidence that this was translating into paying clients or meaningful audiences for our students. Crucially it didn’t assist us in providing a better learning experience. It was abundantly clear that it didn’t help our students to become better or more visible makers.

Hindsight is 20:20, and none of us professes to have foreseen the consequences we are beginning to understand as a society, but had we known earlier the impact of social media on our attention spans, or young people, or the apparent attempts of these businesses to addict us all to their platforms, it is unlikely that so many of us would have committed our attention quite so readily.

A student trimming veneers on a piece of furniture at Rowden Fine Furniture Making school

When Rowden joined Instagram, the platform’s internal motto stated that it should ‘move fast and break things’. In the years since, they have, very clearly, spectacularly succeeded. By coincidence, over the same timeframe, it has become abundantly clear for us that the polar opposite drives our efforts; at Rowden we are motivated to move slow and make things.

As a workshop, we focus on excellence and craftsmanship above all else. No matter the course we deliver, we are conveying a depth of knowledge that requires dedicated focus and attention from us, as well as our students. We choose to foster a culture of intention and direct our attention to our students’ successes so that they can do the same. They work incredibly hard to meet such high standards. Understanding and retaining the vast volume of skill and knowledge we convey in such short spaces of time requires dedication, hard work and deep practice.

A group of Rowden Atelier fine furniture making course students, stopping for lunch.

It is true for everyone, but for those joining this workshop, it comes into focus rapidly; our attention and time are our greatest resources. Whether over one week or a year, Rowden students achieve so much because they dedicate themselves to the work and are the best makers they can be. They choose to join us, and we, in turn, choose to provide an environment that helps them maximise their returns in studying the craft. Anecdotally, students have even committed to a year at Rowden, citing our approach. They have told us the difference is palpable compared to other workshops where they felt ‘pushed [to use] social media, but showed no evidence that it put bread on the table’.

'Life is too rich and full of too many opportunities to be spent staring at our glowing screens'
Joshua A. Klein, editor-in-chief, Mortise & Tenon Magazine
Three drawer cabinet made in lacewood (London plane), by a student at Rowden Atelier Fine Woodworking School

After careful consideration, Rowden stopped using social media. We put its unkept promises behind us and chose to concentrate on what was making a measurable difference to our students. As Joshua at Mortise & Tenon Magazine writes so aptly when explaining why they, too, left social media behind, ‘life is too rich and full of too many opportunities to be spent staring at our glowing screens’.

The knock-on of this decision? Since 2019, Rowden students have won national awards, QEST scholarships and even Guild Marks; the workshop is more productive than ever before. Most importantly, over 83% of our full-time students have gone into professional furniture-making straight out of our course. That’s more than 20% higher than students leaving university.

A console table made in solid ash, with coopered legs and gouged detail top.
Made by Mike Halamek

It’s possible that by saying no to social media, we are leaving some opportunities on the table. If they exist, the evidence suggests those opportunities are marginal. However, rather than scrambling to feed social media algorithms, looking for new and popular platforms to shout about ourselves, this enables us to concentrate entirely on our student’s success. Given the gains we experience as a group, we’re OK with the trade-off. 

What to do with our old social accounts? Rowden still has a profile on Instagram, and after some deliberation, given the number of people we speak to who tell us they want to release themselves from social media’s hold, we decided to leave the profile in place. We hoped it might provide a lifeline; it’s a signpost, not a shop front.

A view across the fields at our North Devon woodworking school, showing our furniture making workshops.

In our full-time courses, Rowden students most often intend to become professional craftspeople. For them, regardless of how limited the evidence is for its effectiveness, social media is an assumed necessary evil for their marketing plans. We deliberate this idea in detail in the coursework and explore an array of methods for getting in front of potential clients. We base these insights on measurable returns for optimising client reach – not assumptions, defaults, or a confirmation bias. Importantly, we look at the subject from the perspective of an aspiring maker, not of a teaching workshop – the objectives of each will be entirely different.

And this is the point; we are a teaching workshop with decades of experience and success in moving our students from novices to exceptional craftspeople. We have refined our offering over that time to maximise outcomes for our students, and our choice is just another refinement. Our objective is not to leverage the highest possible audience we can; it is to teach aspiring craftspeople the skills and convey the knowledge to ensure their best chance of achieving their goals.

Most individuals we speak to want to, at the very least, significantly reduce their use of social media, if not eradicate it altogether. It has become clear to them and to us that, at its core, social media is not designed to help people live an intentional life. It is not helping aspiring craftspeople reach potential clients at the highest level.

If the interest is in building success and pushing for excellence in a chosen craft, it is more likely that social media distracts them from doing what matters: to move slow and make things.

Visit our woodworking courses pages to start your furniture making journey today