Rick Mower launched Raw Workshop to create beautiful, high-quality wood products – that also happen to change lives. Raw trains, employs and works with people who have overcome hardships like mental health problems, criminal convictions and substance abuse issues to create real, tangible, positive social impact whilst not compromising on the quality of their work. Here, Rick talks to Jack Rayner about his life amongst the dreaming spires.
Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with Oxford?
I was born here, to a Persian mother and English father. I went to the Dragon School and St. Edward's, then lived and worked in London and Manchester for while, but came back about 10 years ago. Something that always annoyed me was that when people who had survived addiction, had mental health issues, or had been to prison overcame these issues, they were labelled as 'disadvantaged', whereas my view is that these people are remarkable – they've found a way to cope. I wanted to create a platform where these people could use that grit and resilience for the good, and start a great social business.
What are your favourite haunts around the city?
For many, many years, it was The Dew Drop in Summertown. I think there's still a patch in the carpet by the bar where I used to stand. Nowadays, I love the Ashmolean, Quod and The Chester Arms. We're really blessed in the city with such awesome places.
What to you are the most iconic aspects of Oxford?
Walking up the High Street from Magdalen Bridge towards town, where it sweeps round to the left. That, on an autumn day just after dawn when it's quite cold and the sun's out, is one of the most beautiful sights you can see.
What about Oxford has inspired you or helped your creative process?
Port Meadow – just in terms of a space to think, there's something quite special about Port Meadow. Also, if you tap into it, there's such pure creativity and brainpower around Oxford. Oxford has, for centuries, been creating new ways of doing things and disrupting things. Now, a lot of young entrepreneurs are coming to Oxford because there's such great support for it and there's such a vibrant, energetic culture. Oxford has that libertarian sense of wanting to be different.
What's the worst or least attractive thing about Oxford?
Homelessness. How the hell can we live in a city with our wealth and investment, with all our new science parks and innovation centres, then walk down the road and see several people who don't have somewhere to sleep? That makes me both confused and angry. It seems incongruous that one minute we're talking about all the billions of pounds being invested in Oxford, but it costs so little to house people and we're not doing it. There's something wrong there.
Do you have an area, street or village in Oxfordshire that's special to you?
Jericho. It's a bit like Soho in London or The Village in New York – there's something very open and fun about it.