Derbyshire has always been home to fine craftsmen and one of them, furniture restorer Neil Heldreich, is celebrating his 30th anniversary in business. It’s a milestone reached thanks to help from the Prince’s Trust, which this year marks its 40th anniversary. Traditional furniture restorers and French polisher, Heldreich, based at Hollington, near Ashbourne, has come a long way in the last three decades, and owner Neil, 49, is very grateful for the helping hand he received right at the start from the Prince’s Trust.
He said: “After leaving school, I was inspired by my grandfather and father to continue in the antiques and furniture trade. As well as running a furniture removal business they both dealt in antiques. I wanted to train in the restoration of antique furniture, so in 1984 I enrolled at the Midlands school of French Polishing. In 1986 Heldreich French Polishers was started from a barn at my parents’ home in Longford.”
Neil now runs a successful furniture restoration business from his home, The Cedars, in Hollington. He says: “I love living and running my own business in the part of Derbyshire where I grew up. I searched for 15 years for the right property in the area. I needed outbuildings so I could live and work from the same place. Finally in 2010 I found The Cedars farm for sale in Hollington, which happened to be the very next village to Longford where I first started. It was in quite a poor state but myself and my partner, Alison, spent 12 months renovating it and turned one of the barns into a workshop. “I have many different restoration projects ongoing in my workshop at The Cedars — and several out of it, too. One project I have just completed is a new oak staircase constructed in a 17th/18th century style, which requires distressing and polishing to match its period surroundings. Another project coming up in the new year is at a large new build house. It has a four storey mahogany staircase and seven foot panelled mahogany doors throughout, all to be traditionally French polished.”
Neil is just one of the 825,000 people across the UK who the Prince’s Trust has helped to become their own boss. It helps young, disadvantaged or unemployed entrepreneurs to strike out on their own. And it is always encouraging more young people to come forward and sign up to the Prince’s Trust enterprise programme. The Trust works with 13-30 year olds who have struggled at school, have been in care, are long term unemployed, have been in trouble with the law or simply need help to launch their own business. Neil, who met Prince Charles through the Trust, is delighted the good work is continuing to help people just like him.
Throughout his working life he has gained immense job satisfaction restoring antiques to their former glory, and he has shared his knowledge by giving talks and taking part in the occasional TV programme. He was commissioned to restore a mahogany bookcase for the BBC’s Trust Me, I’m a Dealer. He says: ” The conservation and restoration of antique furniture requires the attention of craftsmen who both understand and respect the history of the piece. The success of this work is dependent on originality of colour and patination, and, wherever possible, the conservation of whatever remains of original components.
“The art of French polishing dates back to the early 19th century when the craft was developed by French cabinet makers. There are also many other finishing and restoration techniques which apply to pieces made before the early 19th century. These processes involve the use of the finest materials and finishing techniques. The traditions of these ancient techniques are proudly upheld here in Hollington.”
Neil and his team also provide bespoke handmade furniture and a traditional upholstery service. He adds: “It has been hard work getting to this point but, with that helping hand from the Prince’s Trust 30 years ago and a little determination, I have managed to achieve my ambitions. I can honestly say I love my job. When I stand at my bench working on a piece of fine furniture looking out of my workshop window at the Derbyshire hills I feel great satisfaction.”
■ Heldreich French Polishers is based at The Cedars, Main Street, Hollington, Ashbourne, DE6 3HA. Call 01335 360114 or 0799 0583326. Alternatively, click to www.heldreich.com.